Considering thoughts of prophecy intruding from “wars and rumors of war,” earthquakes and other events, for a little over a month in 1962, well, it w like the first week following September 11, 2001.
John F. Kennedy had the Commander in Chief position , but the young handsome President had two in his face failures — the U.S. had tried to overthrow Fidel Castro, the Cuban dictator, at the Bay of Pig and Operation Mongoose. Shortly thereafter, Cuba entered into an agreement with the Soviet Union for bases to be constructed on the island for medium range ballistic missiles. Russia would send the nuclear weapons by sea.
Thus, on Oct. 14, 1962, the Cold War began a period of likeliness to become World War III.
A little wee recall injects a tyke asking his federal employee father about the President’s speech. The “classified” site on the INCO property was not revealed, but the city’s place on Cuba and Russia’s Top Ten targets was known.
“Where will we go?”
A bunch of pamphlets brought in after work detailed procedures for building fallout shelters, avoiding radiation, and discussing prospects of mutually assured destruction.
No nuclear or cold war film had Huntington or Charleston, WV as ground zero. However, the thoughts of better bomb shelters for everyone in the back yard are only for the upper class turned thoughts of middle class children to , hey, where do we go in Huntington? The orange and black designated fallout shelter signs (some still remain) had locations storing medical supplies and food.
Although the tunnel between the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Recreation Hall appeared the destiny for government employed families, other awesome hideouts to wait for the radiation to drop would have been the concrete fortified Keith Albee basement, the hard shelled original basement of the Marshall University Science Building, or even, the bowling alley that occupied the lower level of The Arcade.
Movies of the era focused on either a pre-bomb scenario or a after-the explosion scenario. Without CGI special effects, none of the studios could replicate a feature on a “War of the Worlds”/”Independence Day” magnitude. Instead, “Five (1951) ,” “Panic in Year Zero (1962),” “This is not a Test” (1962) and “In the Year 2889 (1967)” flickered on drive in screens, while studio budgets landed long runs for “On the Beach,” “Fail Safe,” “Ice Station Zebra” and “Dr. Strangelove.”
The “B” indie nuclear holocaust film often selected a lucky group of survivors who by fate or location survived either the end of the world or the first nuclear bombs that destroyed the large cities. “Panic” features Ray Millland rushing his family to a rural hunting area, where they sit out the worst of the battle, actually has resemblance to “Run for the Hills” (1952), where a man turns a cave into a fallout shelter for his family. However, the war leads to insurrection and rouges searching for gas, girls, and food.
Gregory Peck’s “On the Beach” (1959) had Australia as the last inhabitable continent and a U.S. submarine fleet heading to San Francisco. They are receiving mysterious code messages. It’s the same climax as “Fail Safe (1964 ) and “Dr. Strangelove” (1964), only the reality factor is hyped up considerably.
Political tension and sensitive spy operations to stop pushing of the “button,” range from Hitchcock’s Paul Newman classic, “The Torn Curtain ( ),” to “Seven Days in May” “Telefon” and “The Odessa File.”
Another mutually assured destruction post apocalyptic style included “The World, the Flesh and the Devil,” which followed three nuclear war survivors, a white man, a black man and a white woman. The original , “I Am Legend” featured Vincent Price. Titled “The Last Man on Earth,” this 1964 flick had Dr. Robert Morgan (Price) killing vampires by day in a post-plague, post-atomic world. The 1954 Richard Matheson novel also spawned, “The Omega Man” starring Charleton Heston in 1971.
Returning to the Cuban crisis premise, the TV movie, “The Missiles of October” (1974) relied on Robert Kennedy’s “Thirteen Days,” which was re-made in 2000 under that title and starring Kevin Costner.
These flashbacks to the worries of nuclear fallout and nuclear air raids prompted several civil defense documentaries containing the now infamous duck and crouch school room and school hallway drills brought about by our need for nuclear dominance following “The Manhattan Project,” which itself became the topic of a movie.
Of course, little did we know , that a facility manufacturing parts for nuclear cores and reactors sat in the middle of Guyandotte. A direct hit would not have meant a fallout avoidance scenario (stay inside in a secure shelter until the majority of the radiation from a far off blast dropped), no, it would have been a hit more like , “The Day After,” for which the science fiction inspired “Triumph” by Phillip Wylie would have been the solution. In that novel, a multi millionaire constructed an underground facility akin to the one hidden below ground at the Greenbrier for his family, friends, neighbors and others who happened to make it to the secret location.
Survival below? Those types of flicks did not surge, except for the vampire mutant premise, which failed to address the impact of safe, underground intimacy for many , many half lives.
Sean P Eagan
Former Chairman American Cold War Veterans