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Meet U.S. Navy Cold War Veteran Peter Hufstader, of Avon

Hufstader blogs on Patch about the Cuban Missile Crisis, detailing the events leading up to the crisis that happened 50 years ago.

Meet U.S. Navy Cold War Veteran Peter Hufstader, of Avon


Peter Hufstader, 75, had just finished serving for the U.S. Naval Reserve the year before the Cuban Missile Crisis happened in October 1962.

Then 25 and living in Fairfield County, it was Hufstader's first year as an English teacher at Darien High School after serving active duty with Patrol Squadron Seven and then as Commander Fleet Air Wing Three staff.

"Like tens of millions of other Americans, I watched the President's speech on October 22nd," he wrote to Patch. "Then, being in the active reserves, I went upstairs and got my uniforms ready. But I was not recalled to active duty."

Hufstader, who now lives in Avon, was on active duty for the Naval Reserves between 1958 and 1961 during the Cold War. A longtime educator and former school administrator, Hufstader grew interested in researching the first 20 years of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis because he experienced them.

"I lived through it all, for one thing, and after I was released from active duty in the Navy I found that I had, in an utterly small and insignificant way, that while I was on active duty I had participated in some interesting events that led up to the hottest point in the Cold War if not human history, the crisis itself," he said. "So I started reading more and collecting source documents."

Hufstader's Cuban Missile Crisis Blog

He has long been doing research and about a year ago he approached Avon Patch about writing a blog series chronicaling the Cuban Missile Crisis in honor of the 50th anniversary. His daughter, Louisa, Napa Valley, CA Patch editor, had suggested it.

"Over the last twenty years of research, I have gradually compiled an annotated chronology of the Missile Crisis that now runs some 500 pages not including maps, cartoons, photographs, etc., as well as an enormous trove of primary-source documents," Hufstader said. "I though it would be a great opportunity to shape that raw material into something informative for the public."

The time period remains significant for Hufstader 50 years later.

"Above all it proves the importance of governments’ not succumbing to knee-jerk, automatic, formulaic responses to challenges (as in pre-WW I Europe)," he said. "The important thing is to acquire accurate information (intelligence), explore alternative solutions, and keep doors open to new solutions, not close them off."

When asked what might surpise people about the Cuban Missile Crisis, he said,"the absolute determination of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at this time (the nation’s highest uniformed commanders) to remove the Soviet missiles in Cuba by force."

"While most of Kennedy’s advisors backed away from that stance within 24 hours, the Joint Chiefs deeply resented the Kennedy administration’s pursuit of a peaceful resolution of the crisis, as if it was some kind of betrayal of what the United States stood for," Hufstader said. "I am not making this up!"

The thing that interested him the most in his research was "how important Kennedy’s open-ended strategy was to a peaceful resolution of the crisis. He left the Soviets a way out. They took it. We’re still here."

You can read his blogs by clicking on the link provided, starting with Sept. 24, 2011 (http://avon.patch.com/users/peter-hufstader/blog_posts).

Hufstader's History

Hufstader joined the U.S. Naval Reserves after college in 1958, four years before the Cuban Missile Crisis took place.

"I belonged to the generation that missed World War II and Korea.... Many of us felt an obligation to follow in our fathers’, uncles’, and older relatives’ foot steps. I know I did," he said. "I gradated from college in early June 1958. Three weeks later I was at OCS in Newport, sans hair and in uniform."

He became a "navigator-tactician" in a Navy patrol squadron after "commissioning," flying in a P2V Neptune plane. His mission involved "antisubmarine warfare," he said.  In January 1960, he was reassigned as an assistant personnel officer of Commander Fleet Air Wing Three. Hufstader said he was released two months early from the Navy – two weeks before work started on the Berlin Wall Aug. 13, 1961 – so that he could go to graduate school.

Hufstader has a master's degree in teaching and bachelor's degree in English, both at Yale University in New Haven.

When asked what it was like to serve in the Navy, Hufstader repeated his favorite motto that states: "Patrol aviation was hours and hours of stultifying boredom punctured by moments of stark terror.”

"When an engine backfires over the Atlantic, sending a sheet of flame past the very young navigator’s window, it is remarkable how quickly he can plot the course and distance to the nearest point of land," he added.

He recalls an interesting story in September 1960. Nikita Khrushchev was en route to the United Nations and Hufstader's patrol plane, Air Wing Three, and "several of its component squadrons were at Keflavik, Iceland, participating in a huge NATO convoy exercise."

"When a Soviet bomber configured to carry passengers landed at Keflavik, the Wing’s intelligence officer and I wangled our way aboard—in uniform, mind you," Hufstader said. "While I chatted up the very attractive female flight attendants (who gave me lemonade), the IO (intelligence officer) got a really good look down the ladder into the “chin” at the bomb sight, sitting there in plain view. I have no idea what the IO learned, if anything."

After teaching English in Darien until 1971, becoming department chair in 1968, he took a job as head of the humanities division and English teacher at the Wheeler School (pre-kindergarten to eighth grade) in Providence, Rhode Island. He became department chair in 1976 and acting headmaster in 1980. He then was appointed assistant headmaster there in 1982 and stayed there until 1988.

In 1989, he was a visiting lecturer at Providence College and after a couple years he went back to teaching part-time, this time eighth grade humanities at the Gordon School.

His interest in history began in the 1980s and he became a researcher in 1995. He moved to Avon in 2006 when his wife took a job as a history teacher at Miss Porter's School in Farmington.

"I found out that I get a kick out of finding out about things, especially when no one knows they exist," Hufstader said. "So research eventually became my second civilian career, starting in 1995. I was very lucky to find the opportunity."

What's next for Hufstader?

He's had thoughts about "creating an electronic reference work for high school history departments and libraries."

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