Northborough’s Ed Bombard recalls participation in ’60s nuclear crisis
By K.B. Sherman, Community Reporter
Northborough – “Suddenly we saw a truck full of rifle-toting Cuban soldiers racing over the hill. They stopped in front of us in a cloud of dust. One yelled, ‘Get the hell out of here!’” said Ed Bombard with a chuckle.
The year was 1961 and the place Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
“We were on liberty and had rented a boat,” Ed explained. “We beached it near a chain-link fence and were getting out to enjoy the beach. When the Cuban Army troops showed up, we left in a hurry.”
Ed, a longtime resident of Northborough, displayed his Navy record in a recent interview at the Northborough Senior Center. His most dramatic time in the US Navy – aside from the confrontation with testy Cuban soldiers – revolved around duty off Cuba and his ship’s engagement in what has become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In 1962, the Soviet Union began creating sites in Cuba for intercontinental ballistic missiles – ICBMs – that would have meant that Russia could strike the United States with nuclear bombs in so short a time that the United States would have been unable to stop them. In response, President John F. Kennedy ordered the Navy to blockade all Soviet Bloc ships heading for Cuba in order to stop the installation of the missiles. The situation became very dangerous and was defused only when First Secretary of the Communist Party Nikita Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles after Kennedy agreed to remove U.S. missiles based in Turkey.
None of this entered into the thoughts of Ed or any other enlisted sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Randolph (CVA-15). “We really didn’t have any idea of what was going on. As a DC3 (damagecontrolman third class) all I knew was that there was suddenly more training in shipboard damage control and that our work schedule became busier. We also had to help the rest of the task force around Cuba ramp up their damage control training as well,” he said. “One day a plane returning to Randolph reported a Soviet submarine nearby, but when we tried to relocate it, we couldn’t find it. Another time a sub surfaced, and a boarding party went to investigate.”
Ed said that his participation in the Navy quarantine of Cuba wasn’t really a big deal – but as we know today, the world came very close to nuclear war during those 13 days in October of 1962.
Ed grew up in Worcester and attended the Worcester Boys Trade School, graduating in 1959. Immediately after graduation, he joined the Navy and then, after boot camp, went to his first posting, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, one of the first carriers built after World War II. Aboard Intrepid, Ed advanced from seaman to petty officer third class as a damagecontrolman (DC). From Intrepid he then transferred to USS Randolph, where he served during the Cuban Crisis. After completing his active duty tour in 1963, Ed transferred to the Naval Reserve, where he remained until leaving the Navy in 1972 as a damagecontrolman first class. His love of service remains as he currently serves as sergeant-at-arms for American Legion Post 234 in Northborough and donates his time to the Senior Center.
“We stayed at battle conditions a lot,” Ed reminisced about the Cuban Quarantine, “so we DCs and the hull technicians (HTs) were kept pretty busy. Before the missile situation, the US Navy ships that frequented Guantanamo Naval Station spent a lot of time doing training for damage and hull repair, so when the actual crisis started we were just busier doing what we had been doing all along.”
Ed married the former Mary Ellen McShane in 1963, a registered nurse who recently retired from the Beaumont Nursing Home in Northborough. They still live in the house they bought in Northborough in 1963. They have four children; one is a nurse and one is career Army.
“I tell him he should have gone Navy,” Ed said, with a laugh.
After the Navy, Ed became a cabinet maker and then a builder of displays for trade shows. He retired in 2002 but stays busy with the American Legion and the Senior Center. He also helped clean-up and restart the Worcester Veterans’ Shelter in the early 1990s and was part of Operation Eagle, which packaged personal goods and then shipped them to our troops overseas during the 1st Gulf War.
“We aboard Randolph were supposed to pick up John Glenn after his Project Mercury orbital flight, but his capsule missed a little and so a destroyer picked him up instead. So we sent a helicopter to the destroyer and brought him back to Randolph,” Ed said.
Ed is modest about his military service. When asked about retirement, he replied, “I love it. I absolutely love it.”
(Photos/courtesy Ed Bombard)
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