Local veteran recalls tension of serving in Key West during Cuban Missile Crisis

Clarence Jones Jr.

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — A local Air Force veteran is remembering his time in the service during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

78-year-old Clarence Jones Jr. says he joined the service in 1962 and entered electrician school.

Once he graduated, he was stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina.

Jones says he was assigned to head down to the Florida Keys, after another airman became sick.

“We’ve got a Cuban Crisis and you’re going! I said ‘not me! I just got here,’ ” Jones remembers saying.

He says once he got down to Florida, he and a few members of the 482nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron stayed in Key West, keeping an eye on Cuba.

“We were there in case airplanes would come over, or rockets or missiles. We would be the first to be killed. There would be nothing you could do about it,” he said.

Jones says he was the electrician tasked with keeping the generators operating at night, but the thought of atomic annihilation kept him anxious.

“You’re nervous all the time. You just don’t know how to deal with life and death that’s in your face,” he said.

Jones says after being stationed there for a couple of weeks, he left and then came back for 18 months before getting sent to Langley Air Force Base.

He got out of the Air Force in 1966 and has lived in Hampton since.

Jones says he’s blessed to still be alive, especially after what he lived through.

“It was what you might call living with death everyday. I think about it now and it was like the end of the world,” he said.

Now, he’s a bus driver for Hampton City Schools and his military experience may have paid off.

“Nothing bothers me anymore. After the Cuban Crisis, my kids on the bus scream so loud and they say how can you take it? I say I’ve had so much worse,” he said.

It’s those memories of living in fear that he believes continues to hang on the horizon for many, especially with the ongoing tensions between the United States and North Korea.

It’s a feeling he’s hoping will one day soon become a distant memory like the rest.

“It doesn’t take much, just one mistake. The flip of a switch, that’s all it takes to launch a missile, and you can’t take it back.”