The Minutemen of October

lights of sturgis

© Jan Wayne Fields

“I say we’re gonna get the code real soon. We’re at DEFCON 2. If the Commies run the blockade and the Navy tries to stop ’em, it’ll be nuclear war.

Despite his apparent anxiousness. Air Force Corporal Brandon “Red” Kowalski was still deemed able to man one of the 50 Minuteman missile silos on the Ellsworth Air Force Base complex north of Sturgis, South Dakota.

“President Kennedy won’t risk World War III over this. He’ll figure something else…” SSgt Tyler Lundgren stopped talking when the alarm went off. Lundgren decoded the message. Both men retrieved their individual keys. They were at war.

I wrote this for the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields Friday Fictioneers writing challenge. The idea is to use the photo above as an inspiration to craft a piece of flash fiction no more than 100 words long. My word count is exactly 100.

When I found out that the image is titled “lights of sturgis,” I looked that up and found out that Sturgis, South Dakota has an annual Parade of Lights. I also found out that “the vast Ellsworth Air Force Base complex, the land north of Sturgis was dotted with 50 Minuteman missile silos. The L5 is 3.5 miles (5.6 km) from the center of the town.”

That led me to think about the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Here’s a quote from that article:

“On October 25, the aircraft carrier USS Essex and the destroyer USS Gearing attempted to intercept the Soviet tanker Bucharest as it crossed over the U.S. quarantine of Cuba. The Soviet ship failed to cooperate, but the U.S. Navy restrained itself from forcibly seizing the ship, deeming it unlikely that the tanker was carrying offensive weapons. On October 26, Kennedy learned that work on the missile bases was proceeding without interruption, and ExCom considered authorizing a U.S. invasion of Cuba. The same day, the Soviets transmitted a proposal for ending the crisis: The missile bases would be removed in exchange for a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba.”

But what if the Navy did try to seize the Bucharest and tensions continued to escalate? The Soviets might not have transmitted their proposal ending the crisis and nuclear war could have been the result.

While all this was happening, I was an eight-year-old boy resting in a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska after having my tonsils taken out. I don’t have a clear memory of Mom or Dad, but much later on, Dad told me that while Mom and I were in the hospital, he and another Air Force airman were manning a missile silo preparing to launch their Minuteman at their designated target. You may or may not know that after receiving the nuclear go codes from the President, each of the two men had to individually insert a key into different locks and turn them simultaneously in order to launch their  missile. This prevented any one person from being able to perform the launch.

Fortunately, in real life, none of that happened, but at the time, everyone thought it would, at least the adults.

I know. My story has practically nothing to do with the prompt photo. Normally, I’m pretty literal, but this time, I had a different idea and I ran with it.

To read other stories based on the prompt, go to

47 thoughts on “The Minutemen of October

    • Thanks, Varad. It was tough to keep to a 100 word limit. There was so much more to say and so many books and movies were made about this theme in the early 1960s.


    • As far as the “superpowers” go, this is the closest we’ve ever come to nuclear war. Even though Iran is coming ever closer to developing nukes thanks to our “deal” with them, I seriously doubt they’ll use nukes against Israel, Europe, or the US (though they’d probably use more conventional weapons against Israel if they thought it would accomplish their goals). North Korea on the other hand, is a wildcard.

      The only other nuclear threat I can imagine is if a terrorist group gets its hands on a nuke and detonates it across from the White House of Buckingham Palace.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. So very rich, James. Fascinating and frightening , all at the same time. And most of all , i admire how you concocted the story and rich dialog using the information.


  2. I, too, enjoyed the history. Seems even in that crisis some common sense would have ultimately prevailed. The leaders/people most to be feared are those who think death in battle against an enemy will gain them eternal special favors. No common sense can prevail if a leader sees the destruction of his people as a desirable outcome.


  3. I think it’s great that you went where you did with that photo. It’s so much more interesting than to be too literal. And what-ifs are sometimes way more terrifying than reality!


  4. Dear James,

    Seems that’s about the same time I had my tonsils out, too. Your story is close enough to the prompt as far as I’m concerned. Very good. Someone had to do historical fiction this week. 😉




  5. I don’t remember the Cuban Missile Crisis, per se. I was about 7 or 8 as well. I do remember the bomb drill; crouching in the hallway with hands behind out necks. I hoped that was all behind us but I am beginning to wonder. Great story


    • It’s funny because I don’t remember those drills at all. I do recall reading articles written decades later saying that would have done us no good and we all would have died anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I may have remembered because I hated them so much. It was an uncomfortable position and we had to sit like that for what seemed like a long time. This was California. We also had earthquake drills, but those were just a dive under the desk.


  6. I liked where you took that prompt. The nuclear threat is still very much there today. And now it’s not just the unpredictable dictators we have to worry about. There is that nutcase running North Korea and that other guy who tweets all the time…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh, how frightened your mom must have been back then. Your story took us right there, and reminds us of the risks that we are now facing as well. Great write. May peace prevail, indeed!


  8. Good, believable situation, with fluent dialogue (missing a few cuss words, I daresay). I remember the Cuban crisis clearly, and it was very frightening. The world is less safe now, simply because of the proliferation of nuclear weapons.


  9. You’ll have to read my version of the Cuban missile crisis sometimes. It’s dramatic but far less threatening. In fact, comic (what a surprise). It’s embedded in the story “Running of the Chickens” in my upcoming book, “One Idiot Short of a Village.”


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