In 1962, the Cold War reached new and dangerous heights with the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Following the failed U.S. attempt to curtail Cuba’s regime at the Bay of Pigs, the Soviet Union teamed up with the Caribbean nation to build up an arsenal of nuclear missiles on the island.
The strategic location would allow for nuclear attack on any location within the continental United States.
Pivotal to proving existence of armament, and the eventual negotiations that provided for removal of the missiles, were aerial reconnaissance photos taken by Air Force spy planes.
Byron Marvin, 77, of Richmond Hill, piloted one of those planes.
“I flew up, did a couple of missions down there, and then they gave me an airplane to take pictures of the missile sites that the Russians said didn't exist,” Marvin said.
His photos were delivered to the Pentagon in October 1962 and subsequently used during an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council by U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Adlai Stevenson, who urged the Soviet ambassador to admit to the existence of the missiles.
“They couldn't argue anymore about whether or not they had the missiles,” Marvin stated. “They were there.”
A fighter pilot, tactical trainer and flight instructor during his 28-year Air Force career and beyond, Marvin is modest about his achievement, although he recognizes its gravity.
"I'm basically a shy person, I really am, but not when it comes to airplanes," he explained.
Marvin entered the Air Force at 17 and, through a series of bold moves, became a fighter pilot by the precocious age of 20. He has flown planes that were the fastest of their time, from the B-36D Peacemaker to the RF-101.
“I love them all. I would fly with my unit and then go to another squadron and ask if they needed another pilot for the day, or I'd go down to base operations and fly with them. I've never seen an airplane I didn't like.”
Marvin’s Magnolia Manor home is a tribute to his stunning career. On the walls are photos and diagrams of his favorite fighter jets. A large shelf is filled with memorabilia from the 11 countries he has lived in, pilot-themed kitsch from his days as an instructor, and beloved photos of him and his late wife, Darlene, a chaplain’s daughter who he met at age 15 and knew he would someday marry.
“We had a wonderful, wonderful life because I was chasing airplanes all the time and I could say to her, ‘we're leaving in 10 days,’ and she would say ‘OK. Where are we going?’”