Veterans Voices

Retired pilot recalls close call during Cuban Missile Crisis

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - A retired Rear Admiral takes us on a trip back in time where two superpowers flexed their nuclear muscles, as the world held its breath.  Jake Tobin's close encounter with the enemy during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 later led him to appreciate the beauty of water.     

"Things were always interesting at that time," Tobin said with a laugh 

For 13 days in October, leaders of the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in a political and military standoff over the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S. mainland.  In a TV address on October 22,  President John F. Kennedy explained his decision to enact a naval blockade around Cuba and made it clear the U.S. was prepared to use military force.  

Tobin was a Navy pilot stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  He recalled what started as a routine surveillance mission over the water near the island.  Tobin was the co-pilot in a P-5 M Marlin, a sea plane that was unarmed.        

"They were observational flights, just to see which way the ships were going, which way the Russian ships were going.  We took off and we were observing some areas on the western side of Cuba and we got a little too close to land." 

And that's when a Soviet MIG fighter jet took notice.

"Here came this Cuban MIG come screaming at us full bore, came right up next to us, turned around and came back in and had us targeted and I think fired.  The only thing that we could do was head for the water."

Tobin says the pilot steered their aircraft toward the water, where it could fly as low as 15 feet.  The MIG turned toward Cuba.  That's why he fell in love with the water, because during those heart-stopping moments, Tobin's sea plane could go where a MIG fighter could not.

"Thank you God," Tobin said with a sigh, as if he just got off that aircraft. "We were most grateful."

One could say Jake Tobin's close call off the shores of Cuba is a microcosm of how close The United States and Soviet Union came to a nuclear confrontation.  Following tense negotiations, the Soviets agreed to pull their missiles from Cuba.  

Tobin retired as a Rear Admiral, but is still surrounded by water at his condo in the Freemason neighborhood of downtown Norfolk.  Gratitude seemed to flow when Tobin talked about his love of the water.

"It began to have more of a spiritual effect on me."  

Leaving time to reflect on his time as a naval officer and pilot.  

"If I had to do it all over again, the good and bad, I would."  

Including that day 56 years ago, when we counted down to a nuclear war that didn't happen, and a future Rear Admiral, who shuns titles and wants to be known as "Jake," was saved by the water.


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