Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Although few here were sentient at that time, I still remember it very well, despite being only 10. I could tell my mom was very worried, but I was more excited than scared, as the prospect of the U.S. unleashing its armed forces on the commies seemed very cool at the time. This article in USA Today provides some interesting tidbits about how close we came to war (we reached Defcon 2--the next level is all out war), including having all of our ICBM silos open and lots of bombers flying close to the Soviet borders.
Years later, Prof. Ed Firmage taught a great seminar on the crisis in which I learned details that weren't widely known in '62, including how despite his bluster, Kruschev really wanted to avoid war but needed to save face with his party. JFK, despite looking like he was tough and unyielding, secretly agreed to remove US missiles from Turkey at the same time USSR was pulling out of Cuba, thus giving Kruschev the face-saving chip he needed to appease the Politburo.
The article also includes details about the U-2 flights over Cuba and how difficult it was to fly those supersecret aircraft. Flying them at >70,000 feet, the pilots had to be ultra-careful when turning, climbing or descending, keeping the speed within a range of only 7 mph lest the wings or tail snap off. I had dinner once with a U-2 pilot who said that a pilot had to use the stick the way one would caress a woman's breast--very gently, lovingly, etc. A drunken dinner companion quipped, "Oh shit, I'd snap those wings off for sure."
Back on point, in 1962 we lived over the hill from an antiaircraft base equipped with Nike missles. One night, I was awakened by the sound of sirens at the base. Thinking this was it, I got up and stood by our door, waiting for the sound of missiles launching. My dad eventually got up, told me it was only a test and that I could go back to bed. He'd wake me when and if the war started. Thankfully, he never had to.