By Max Hrenda
Over the next 13 days, the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a political and strategic battle of wills that history remembers as the Cuban Missile Crisis, and which dominated newspaper, television and radio headlines.
But a Carter County Marine wasn’t near a newspaper or television: in the crisis’ early stages, Corp. Richard Winters was home hunting deer in Roan Mountain, on leave from Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he taught small arms and tactics.
What began as a peaceful day in the forests of the Highland ended abruptly when he returned to home to his father.
“I got home, and my dad said there was a number I needed to call; it was the recall number,” Winters said. “I said, ‘That is not good. Here I am on my way to Germany.’”
In 1961, the Soviets had completed construction of the Berlin Wall. Soviet Premier Nikita Khruschev had previously told Kennedy that he planned on invading West Germany in the fall of 1962.
The Soviets didn’t act on that threat, however, and Winters was recalled to Cuba, where he had previously served as a guard and patrolman at Guantanamo Bay.
“I was called out of my teaching job and put into an infantry regiment,” Winters said. “That was inevitable. I spoke a little Spanish, and I was an established small unit leader. I’d been doing that in the jungle, knew jungle tactics, and had been teaching jungle tactics.”
Although his resume was already becoming impressive, Winters was only in the middle of his third year of military service. Almost immediately after graduating from Cloudland High School in 1959, Winters, at 17, asked for his parents’ permission to enter the Marine Corps.
“My dad signed, but my mom said, ‘I’m not signing for the Marine Corps,’” Winters said. “I finally told her that I’d forge my name if she didn’t let me go. I told her, ‘If they catch me, I’ll go to jail. Now take your pick.’”
Looking back, Winters said he regretted the method he used to acquire his mother’s consent.
“That’s an awful spot to put your momma in,” Winters said. “I realize that now. But that’s how much I wanted to go.”