WOSTER: ‘Green Onions,’ the Cuban Missile CrisisMy generation, the kids on campus at Creighton that fall, grew up with the Cold War.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Booker T and the MGs had a hit in October of 1962, a song called “Green Onions.”
It received huge air play on KOIL Radio in Omaha that fall, sharing the air with “Sherry” by the Four Seasons, “Do You Love Me” by the Contours and “Surfin’ Safari” by the Beach Boys. A popular DJ — Sandy Jackson, I think was the guy’s name — drew listeners from across the Missouri Valley region. If a song was on his show, it was all over Omaha, Council Bluffs and the heartland of the country. All over included in the dormitory rooms at Creighton University, where inexpensive transistor radios added static and fuzz to the sounds from KOIL.
The reason I mention KOIL and “Green Onions” in the first sentence is because I have a vivid memory of hearing that song as I was leaving Wareham Hall with a couple of classmates one afternoon. The memory remains half a century later for two reasons.
First, we could hear the music in the hall. Someone in one of the rooms next to the stairway in the old dorm had the volume on the radio cranked far higher than Father Cahill and the proctors permitted. Generally, a radio that could be heard outside a dorm room eventually prompted a visit from a proctor or Father Cahill. Hearing a song in the hall was most unusual, and the driving rhythm and lively organ melody of “Green Onions” were unmistakable.
Second, beyond the unusualness of hearing a radio being played in a dorm room at Wareham, I remember the moment because of our destination that afternoon. I don’t recall if that memory is from exactly 50 years ago today. It definitely was this time period in 1962 — sometime in the middle to latter part of October. I recall that specifically because my classmates and I were leaving Wareham to go across the street to St. John’s Chapel for a prayer service.
The purpose of the prayer service was a peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I don’t remember the exact moment I learned that the Soviet Union was putting missile bases in Cuba. I learned later that Oct. 14, 1962, was the day a U-2 high-altitude reconnaissance airplane captured photographs that proved the bases were under construction. Once that became known, the public anxiety factor went through the roof. President Kennedy got into a stare-down with Soviet Premier Khrushchev, the opposing sides’ naval forces headed for a showdown at sea and, according to some historians, at least, the world was as close to major nuclear war as it has ever been.
My generation, the kids on campus at Creighton that fall, grew up with the Cold War. I was born six months before the Normandy invasion. World War II was over before I was old enough to read. I made first-grade arguments, based on vague notions picked up from eavesdropping on adult conversations, about the Korean War, President Truman’s policies and General McArthur’s military decisions.
As a teenager, I didn’t know the phrase “Evil Empire,” but that’s how I thought of the Soviet Union. They were our enemies in the Cold War and our opponents in a life-or-death race to build the greatest number of nuclear-armed missiles. If they were building missile sites in Cuba, they were planning to attack the United States. That was obvious to any school child — terrifyingly so.
I came from a generation that practiced nuclear-attack drills by crawling under school desks and curling into little cocoons. The idea of nuclear war was real to my generation, even if the school-desk response was pointless. As the Cuban Missile Crisis developed, I tended to see things deteriorating into a shooting war, with nuclear warheads as the missile payloads.
When the call went out for a prayer service, then, I joined those responding. There was nothing else I could do from that campus near downtown Omaha, but I could do that. I will never forget the news that the Soviets would remove the missiles, and I’ll never forget Booker T and the MGs or “Green Onions” that October.