Click here to read The Valley of the Flowers Part Two.
. . . In stark contrast to the peaceful landscape of the nearby town, Lompoc, “The Flower Seed Capital of the World,” stood the military complex of Vandenberg Air Force Base [VAFB], California, perfectly situated upon a broad elevated mesa, on the coast. See the red star, on the map: Point Conception is the location of VAFB, on the “elbow” of the state of California.
My family lived on the base [1958-1962] during the “glory days” of the Missile Program. My father was a United States Air Force [USAF] Officer and a Missile Safety Educator. Among the Strategic Air Command [SAC] bases, VAFB was second only in importance to SAC Headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base [OAFB] in Omaha, Nebraska.
The motto of SAC was “Peace Is Our Profession” — but the protection of peace necessitated a huge arsenal of defensive weaponry. VAFB owned vast, empty miles of coastal property on Point Conception. The government property contained a network of underground tunnels, silos, command centers, and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles [IBM’s].
In spite of living within four miles of IBM’s, family life on VAFB was safe and secure: Armed Military Police [MP’s] guarded the VAFB Entry Gates, through which vehicles entered the base. Each vehicle stopped at the gate; the MP inspected the vehicle’s official VAFB sticker. Only after the MP saluted, did the vehicle advance through the gate.
There was no crime on the base: law and order prevailed. We never locked the doors to our homes or vehicles. Children safely played ball, roller skated, or rode bikes in the streets — because the MP’s strictly enforced the posted “20 miles per hour” speed limit on the base. [My mother once received a ticket for driving “22 miles per hour.”]
Each of the residential neighborhoods contained a network of sidewalks, a park, and an elementary school. As a ten-year old, I was completely free to roam the neighborhood all day, as long as I returned home in time for supper. I took my younger siblings and we played together in the park. Alone, I walked to school in the morning, walked home for lunch, returned to school, and walked home in the afternoon.
After school and on weekends, I roller-skated up and down the sidewalks. The neighborhood was full of hills. I think I probably walked on the grass, next to the sidewalk, if I was going uphill. Then, I turned around and coasted downhill on the sidewalk. How exhilirating! I was free and I was flying! As a result of frequent tumbling and falling, however, I suffered “scabs upon scabs” all over my knees. After each fall, my father carefully dressed the knee wounds and urged me to wait until the wounds properly healed. But I was tough, reckless, and fearless. To his credit, he didn’t stop me, a few days later, when I bolted out the door, to skate — and to tumble and fall on my pitiful knees.
After school and on weekends, I also rode my bike up and down the same hills — but I rarely fell off my bike.
I remember a beautiful fall day in 1962: I was a ten year old fifth-grader, climbing on the “Jungle Gym” during recess at school. I loved to climb onto the “Monkey Bars.” I had already suffered through an agonizing process: First, I developed blisters on my hands, from hanging from the Monkey Bars. The blisters hurt like the dickens! The blisters healed and then I repeated the agonizing process. Finally, my hands developed callouses and I was then pain-free, as I glided along on the Monkey Bars.
After school on that fall day, I walked home, put on my corduroy pants, and walked over to see my friend, Linda. I carried my skates with me and we skated up and down her street. Then, we took off our skates and came inside her home, to play a board game and enjoy some refreshments. It was five PM: I remember the time because etiquette dictated that, by 5.30 PM, children should return home.
At 5 PM, I had not yet left Linda’s home. We were sitting down on the carpet in the living room, playing a board game. The television was on and Linda’s mother walked from the kitchen to the living room, sat down on the couch, and listened intently and quietly, as President Kennedy read from a script in front of him. I was mesmerized by the speech but did not understand the ramifications of President Kennedy’s Cuban Missile Crisis Message. Cuban Missile Crisis Wikipedia
But Linda’s mother understood! After the broadcast, she leapt to her feet and said, “Oh, my God! We are going to be invaded!”
Then, she told us, “Now, listen, girls, you have to learn what each different Civil Defense siren means! The sirens each have a different sound, according to a “color code:” The “color code sound” will tell you how many minutes — or seconds — remain before an enemy missile strike!”
My heart stopped. I wondered if I would have time to run home, before the invasion began? Or, should I stay at Linda’s home?
No! I wanted to be home, with my own family, before an invasion! So, I either ran or skated home, faster than I have ever traveled under my own power in my entire life. I scanned the skies as I raced home, to see if I could detect any hint of enemy missiles. My ears were tuned and ready to hear the dreaded, heart-stopping scream of a siren.
Breathless, I safely arrived home and, to my amazement, my parents were calmly discussing the events of the day, while my mother prepared supper. It appeared to be a normal day! What a relief! The invasion would not occur today! I fervently hoped that I might enjoy a few more days and weeks within the safe cocoon of my family, before nuclear disaster swept us all away, in a cloud of dust.
Within the span of one half-hour, between 5.00 pm and 5.30 pm on Monday, October 22, 1962, my mind confronted a horrifying truth: I would never, ever be safe and secure again! There were forces and powers that might unleash at any moment — and my father could not protect me from disaster. My father could not stand between me and the spectre of enemy missiles, whistling through the skies over Vandenberg.
My safe, secure world in The Valley of the Flowers was shattered. The world stood on the precipice of nuclear world. As the world held its collective breath, I stood on the precipice of adulthood. At only 10 years of age, I tumbled and fell through the invisible portal that separated the innocence of childhood from the terrifying realities of adulthood.
Now, fifty years later, recording these memories gives me “the willies” and makes my teeth chatter. Yet, I will continue to record, for my children and grandchildren, the historic events during October 1962, to which I was an eyewitness. I will continue to write about these events, in the hope that I can confront the nightmares that have haunted my dreams for the past fifty years.