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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News

 

Pushing the wrong buttons...

Posted 5/03/16 (Tue)

Some of you might remember a TV show called “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” that aired on ABC from 1964-1968.

If not, it’s re-broadcast every Saturday night at midnight on ME TV, a subcarrier of KMOT-TV in Minot.

In its first season, one of the episodes that was originally broadcast on Jan. 18, 1965, was shown recently.

When the show began, Soviet missiles were aimed at the United Sates and a U.S. general in a command center phoned the president to tell him it was no drill. The only thing the president said was “God help us all.”

That brought the show’s cast into the show. They were on a nuclear submarine called the “Seaview” that was the best weapon in the U.S. military at the time.

The cast was having an initiation for new sailors who had just gone over the equater, or under it as it were, because they were in a submarine.

Anyway, they were having fun, role playing as British royalty and all of a sudden, the warning siren sounded.

“Man your battle stations,” the admiral yelled.

When they got there, none of them knew whether it was a drill or not, so they shot a special antenna out of the submarine to see if they would get a “training” signal.

There was no signal and it was the real thing. Soviet missiles were coming at the United States and while this was going on, a Soviet frigate was dropping depth charges  on the Seaview.

As the depth charges exploded, four personnel, the admiral, the captain and two lieutenant commanders each had a special key that would unluck nuclear missiles to retaliate against Russia if something like this happened.

The admiral quickly turned his key, the captain did the same, one of the lieutenant commanders was busy and as soon as he finished, turned the third key.

The other lieutenant commander froze in place and couldn’t turn the key. The admiral pleaded with him to turn the key or be subject to court martial. He didn’t answer so the admiral punched the guy in the face, took the key and turned it to activate the nuclear missiles aboard the ship.

The admiral told him, “why didn’t you turn the key, you’ve done this a hundred times. You’re one of the brightest officers to come out of Annapolis. Why didn’t you turn the key?”

His response, “that was practice. I can’t be responsible for destroying half the world.”

Practice, fiction, clever writing of the television episode; whatever you call it, it made for some really good drama during the height of the Cold War.

There are people who could actually get into those situations and most often, it isn’t an admiral or a Navy captain. It’s generally lieutants or junior commanders who bear the brunt of this psychological meltdown.

The Cuban Missile Crisis happened less than three years before that episode of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” aired on ABC.

Many historians say that was about as close to nuclear war as the United States and Russia got. It was such a standoff, many people didn’t go to sleep when it peaked, fearing they may never wake up again.

That 1965 TV episode reminds us of how fragile the world had come to complete annihilation in the early 1960s.

And when we think about the lieutenant commander who froze before he could turn the key; how many times could that happen in reality?

Nobody knows how they will react in a situation like that until they are actually faced with it.

A lieutenant commander is the Army, Marine and Air Force equivalent of a major. That’s a mid-grade officer who panicked when the time had come to carry out an unfortunate duty.

This TV show was a made up script to get viewers. The Missiles of October wan’t a gag. It was quite real.

And for those of us too young to remember those two weeks in October 1962, I suggest you do some research, read a book about it or even watch the TV movie about it from 1974.

The Soviet Union moved ballistic missiles into Cuba as a deterrent against the United States.

President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev were so close to pushing the “hot” bottons, it could have changed the world as we know it. Finally, Kruschev pulled the missiles out of Cuba.

Can you just imagine what might have happened? It would have made Hiroshima look like a Boy Scout camp fire.