When World War II ended, the world was still jittery about the possibility of another war ensuing. The tension known as the Cold War was there, and powerful nations were working on creating nuclear missiles, worried that the others would attack them, and they did not want to be unprepared and left behind. Add the Cuban missile crisis that had the world holding its breath to see if a full-blown nuclear war would happen. Of all the things and people that could’ve almost drawn the final straw, it was a black bear.
Cuban Missile Crisis
Beginning October 16, 1962, the already tense Cold War even became hotter when the Soviet Union started to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. This was in response to the United States’ action of placing its nuclear missiles in Turkey and Italy. This prompted a naval blockade around Cuba, called quarantine, to ensure that Russia would no longer be sending more nuclear missiles. The confrontation between the two most powerful superpowers lasted for 35 days until November 20, 1962. This international crisis kept the rest of the world on its feet, anticipating how the confrontation would end, either through agreement or a full-scale nuclear war.
The ongoing situation prompted most of the US military on DEFCON 3, which means an increase in force readiness higher than the required normal readiness, and that Air Force would be ready to mobilize in just 15 minutes if something comes up. The Strategic Air Command, which handled most of the US nuclear arsenal, was on DEFCON 2 and just one step below nuclear war, which meant missiles spun up ready to fly and every nuclear-armed bomber in the air with target packages all programmed into their navigation computers.
If the people were anxious about how the crisis would be resolved, so were the military personnel. As mentioned, during those unpredictable moments, everyone was jittery, and that greatly contributed to what happened on October 25, just a few days after the crisis began.
Duluth Air Force Base, at that time, was holding about 130 nuclear weapons, so security was armed, extensive and ready to shoot anyone who approached a nuclear weapon without authorization.
A Russian Saboteur… Or So They Thought
That dark night, a sentry base was quietly observing where he was stationed when he noticed a shadowy figure that appeared to be trying to climb over the perimeter fence. His first thought was that it was a Soviet saboteur, so he fired shots at the person before sounding the alarm. The neighboring bases to which the alarm was connected, were alerted about the trouble and were ready to engage. Meanwhile, the sentry guy immediately realized that the shadowy figure was not a Russian saboteur but was just a black bear trying to explore around. He promptly reported his discovery upon noticing his mistake, and the alarms were canceled.
Some 200 miles away at the Volk Field Air National Guard Base, the people were calmer and more relaxed. This was a smaller base and was rushed into service for F-106 Delta Dart interceptors because of the missile crisis. Unbeknownst to the people stationed there, an engineer had crossed the alarm wires from the Duluth Air Force Base to Volk Field during its construction, so instead of the intruder alarm at the nearby base, Volk Field received the “scramble” alarm instead, which basically tells the pilots to board the aircraft and prepare to engage for combat.
The F-106s were armed with nuclear-tipped Genie missiles powerful enough to wipe out an entire squadron of Soviet bombers preparing to take off. So, the officers decided to first make a call directly to the Duluth Air Force Base before launching anything to check and make sure that it was not just a false alarm. Upon knowing that it was not real, the alert was canceled, and a jeep drove out toward the front of the taxiing aircraft, flashing its lights, preventing them from taking off.
Thankfully, the personnel at the Volk Field Air National Guard Base did not let panic take over, and their rational thinking prevailed. As for the bear, it went on its merry way, not knowing that it might have started a nuclear conflict.