The Russians are Coming
.S. Navy shipboard communications in the summer of 1962 were considerably different than they are today. All classified traffic was manually encrypted off line, using a series of adjustable rotors and changing crypto keys. The encrypted messages were then broadcast by teletype or hand-keyed manual Morse from a Naval Communications Station to the ships at sea. The message addressees then decrypted the unreadable stream of letters on their own off-line machinesa time-consuming effort at both ends and subject to frustrating errors in selecting the right key and aligning the crypto devices properly.
Primitive by today's standards, this awkward means of communicating classified information to the fleet had served us well through WWII, post-WWII and the Korean conflict, but would eventually be replaced by "on line" systems, which required no intervention at either end to encrypt and decrypt the sensitive text of messages, once the proper crypto key cards were inserted at the beginning of the crypto period.
It was because of the antiquated, off-line communications that were state of the art in September 1962 that our ship sailed into Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, completely unaware that the United States had taken a major step toward entering World War III.
The ship had managed to extricate itself from further participation in the nuclear tests (see Gimme Shelter) but only by committing itself to fill in for another ship in an exercise with the Kaneohe Marines. As we entered the bay expecting to find hundreds of Marines and their equipment on the pier waiting to embark for the exercise, not a soul was visible; not a sign of life. Twilight Zone time. We put a small boat in the water and sent an officer in to find out if we'd blundered into the wrong bay. On his return, we learned that Defense Condition 2 (DEFCON 2) had been implemented throughout the U.S. military establishment. The Cuban missile crisis had brought us eyeball to eyeball with the Soviet Union and its huge nuclear weapons arsenal.
The change in Defense Condition required that we do some very specific things to defend ourselves in the event of attack or sabotage, including posting armed guards on the pier. It's not that I didn't take the situation seriously, but when confronted with the requirement to put loaded weapons in the hands of certain members of the crew, I weighed the potential risk of enemy action directed at us in Hawaii versus the greater possibility that our armed sentries would shoot themselves or one of their shipmates and, with some misgivings, issued them 30 caliber rifles and 45 caliber ammunition.
Fortunately, this charade was necessary only while we were in port, which was infrequent; and, also fortunately, no Russian saboteurs stormed the ship. The fact that none of the sentries noticed this mismatch supported my decision and the deception remained a secret the rest of my time aboard the ship.
Jean d'Isle is a retired naval officer living in Hawaii.During his military career he served in a number of overseas assignments, including Germany, England, Spain, Viet Nam and Puerto Rico. Following his retirement, he was an adjunct faculty member of Hawaii Pacific University and is currently under contract with the U.S. Navy at the submarine base in Pearl Harbor.
Jean's column, View From d'Isle, is a regular feature of VegSource On-Line Magazine.