NEW YORK, USA -- October 16-28, 2012, will mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. One of the forgotten yet crucial details of the crisis are the low-level reconnaissance missions -- designated as Operation Blue Moon -- flown by US military pilots that proved to President John Kennedy that the Russians had moved missiles onto Cuba.
In the book, Blue Moon Over Cuba: Aerial Reconnaissance during the Cuban Missile Crisis, US Navy Capt. William Ecker tells the story of how on October 19, 1962, American military planners quietly ordered his squadron and their state-of-the art RF-8A Crusader jets to a remote airbase in Key West, Florida. (John Glenn had previously set a speed record in a Crusader.) Once there, the pilots and crews waited as CIA analysts made their case to Kennedy.
Ecker and his team got their orders on October 23. Their mission was to enter Cuban airspace at treetop level at a fraction below the speed of sound and photograph suspected missile sites with their suite of high-speed cameras. They flew width-wise across the narrow island and then to Naval Air Station Jacksonville, where the Navy's main photographic lab was located. As soon as the photos were developed and interpreted, they were delivered to the White House.
On October 25, Adlai Stevenson, the US ambassador to the United Nations, exhibited prints of Ecker's photographs to his Russian counterpart and demanded an answer from him.
From October 23-November 15, 168 Blue Moon sorties were flown across Cuba by American armed forces -- often under intense enemy fire. Those missions occurring after October 28 were used by Kennedy to verify the dismantling of the missile sites. For their role, the pilots and crews were presented with a Navy Unit Commendation by Kennedy in November 1962, who said in his remarks, "The reconnaissance flights which enabled us to determine with precision the offensive build-up in Cuba contributed directly to the security of the United States in the most important and significant way."