Update from Congressman Pete Gallego

This month marks the 52nd anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Most people know the story of how close the world came to nuclear war. However, many people don’t know that military personnel from the 23rd District of Texas played a major role in this great drama.

 As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am always especially proud of our community’s long history of military service and excellence. And, this week, I want to pay tribute to the men and women of Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. Airmen from Laughlin Air Force Base led  the way in proving that the Soviets were installing missiles in Cuba.

 In 1962, America was in the midst of the Cold War, and fears of nuclear warfare permeated the country. American forces took every precaution to protect the nation from our enemies. We could not allow the Soviets to place missiles in Cuba – only 90 miles from the U.S. homeland. 

When military intelligence learned that the Soviets were beginning to build missile bases in Cuba, the stakes went much higher. Gathering intelligence about the missiles became critical – the United States needed proof. And, with Cuba’s proximity to the U.S., there was no room for error.

 The Air Force called upon Airmen from Air Force 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing to fly over Cuba and gather information. At that time, this wing was stationed in Del Rio and Laughlin Air Force Base was home to the U-2’s. Pilots Major Richard “Steve” Heyser and Major Rudolf Anderson Jr. were among the Laughlin pilots to execute flyover missions in Cuba.

Major Heyser was able to successfully obtain some of the first photographs of the Soviet missile bases. He returned from Cuba to McCoy Air Force Base in Florida where his photographs were developed and then presented at the United Nations Security Council on October 22, 1962. These photos provided indisputable evidence to world leaders that Soviet leaders had installed missile bases in Cuba.

The U-2 airplane was meant for gathering intelligence. It is light and fast and meant to fly at high altitude. It was not meant for combat. Unfortunately, the plane being flown by Major Anderson was hit by shrapnel from a surface-to-air missile. The plane was unable to sustain the hit – and Major Anderson was killed. Major Anderson became the first recipient of the Air Force Cross, the second highest honor for valor in the Air Force. His body was returned to the United States after the crisis. 

Today, Laughlin is a pilot-training air base. And, every pilot there knows the name of Rudolf Anderson. Anderson Hall, the primary operations training complex at Laughlin Air Force Base, now carries his name. It was the least that Laughlin Air Force Base could do to honor one of its heroes.

Our region and our people have a long history of service to our country. Even now, I’ve also seen first-hand the service of our young men and women in Afghanistan and the Middle East. I believe that our nation should give credit when credit is due.

I want to give credit to those heroes of our past, like the pilots at Laughlin Air Force Base who so ably served our country during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And, I want to emphasize that today’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen deserve the same quality of training, resources and support to get the job done. 

I remain very proud of these American heroes. I’m humbled to represent an area that has contributed so much to the safety of our great nation. I also know that we can sleep well knowing that the tradition of excellence from Airmen at Laughlin Air Force Base and service members throughout the 23rd District of Texas and the entire nation continues on today.