Topic: Cuban missile crisis under President John F. Kennedy, events of October 24, 1962.
Interview Date: October 19, 2003.
WILLIAM O. BAKER: I was in the State building because that was the White House headquarters. I wasn't functioning as their agent. I was functioning purely as a White House security agent. And I was in [the State Department] building. That's where the headquarters were. But I just want to make it clear it wasn't the State Department making the decisions there.
[I was there] because the President had decided that was a much better place than the Joint Chiefs. He felt that the Joint Chiefs were committed to military action. And he was getting a terrific amount of pressure from them, of course, to take military action. And he was wise enough and patriotic enough and had sufficient vision, so he wasn't going to do that. So he transferred the whole command and control headquarters of the United States to the State Department. And I may have mentioned this before, but what we did was to move in, nice little, well it wasn't so little, but quarters there, which was where their new auditorium in the State Department was going to come. … And that became the command and control headquarters of the United States.
And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs moved there, and the Security Council agent, either the National Security agent himself or his deputy, moved there. … And Bundy was off, had a mission somewhere. And this thing got worse all the time. I was assigned there [by President Kennedy]. I was assigned to represent his decisions.
They didn't trust communications. And they, of course, were correct. So [Bundy’s deputy] and I, and other deputies that we found whom we could trust, had to run back and forth.
At that point, I took the message, yes, to the President. But I got the message from the Joint Chiefs. Of course, that's where the communications and the center was most active. And I was then in the course of taking the message to the President when it turned out, as you say, the ship hadn't turned. … He had told them that they were going to launch; we were going to launch torpedoes from the submarines. He had them on the launch level. And so I got over there as fast as I could, and said: “They've turned!”
Well, I think he [President Kennedy] was immensely relieved. He was terribly worried about nuclear war, which was almost guaranteed at that stage. See, he had been given all kinds of intensive advice from the Joint Chiefs, which are not a trivial spokes force. That advice was: ‘You got to bomb these people right away. They're going to declare nuclear war and you, Mr. President, you've got to stop it. You got to bomb their centers and get rid of them.’ And that's when he -- and a couple of Senators told him the same thing. And so that's when he said well, he was President of the whole United States and that he wasn't going to do that at that point. Now, he did not know, of course, at that point that the ships were also going to turn. But that was the position he was taking.