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DEFCON in the Country – Part II

AS VLADIMI'R PUTIN'S mad-cow assault slogs on in Ukraine without a plausible endgame in sight, the eventual possibility of a "nuclear event" continues to nip at the seams of this horrific conflict.

Will he or won't he?

Should we believe speculation that the deranged dictator is prepared to "go there," reportedly having shipped his daughters and ex-wife to the safety of an underground labyrinthine bunker in the Altai Mountains of Siberia?

Are we really headed for an actual "red telephone" hotline moment?

If you are of a certain age, you've seen this atomic action movie before.

It was October 1962 when the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union suddenly boiled over during the short but super-scary Cuban Missle Crisis.

Then, it was the presence of Soviet nuclear-armed missles in Cuba, just 90 miles off the U.S. coast, that locked the two super-powers in a massive stare down.

At its most tense point, the U.S. Strategic Air Command was locked and loaded at DEFCON 2, meaning our armed forces were ready to launch nuclear weapons as the White House continued to insist Russia not just stop missile deployment, but remove warheads already on the island.

As the drama played out for weeks leading up to those terrifying final days of brinkmanship, my father was busy at our little house on Fifth Avenue in Maple Shade, N.J., trying to figure out how to build a bomb shelter. For real.

I came home from school one day to find on the dining room table a brochure (much like the newspaper ad pictured here) touting the life-saving features of an underground nuclear-blast-proof bunker.

If there was one thing my dad learned during his WWII service, it was how to survive.

As a Staff Sergeant in the Army’s storied First Infantry Division, he fought his way from North Africa, to Italy, to the Invasion of Normandy, to the Battle of the Bulge, and then across the Siegfried Line into the Rhineland. Along the way, he was wounded four times, including a bullet that went through his helmet, making a long indentation across the top of his scalp. I’d call that a very close encounter with Bye-Bye Land.

So, with Nikita Khrushchev threatening to drop a Big Boy our heads, it wasn’t surprising that Frank had a plan.

It turned out that buiding an underground shelter in our backyard was just too expensive for a modest-wage government worker like my dad.

Out went the free-standing structure. In came the massive 9-foot-tall pantry cabinet.

I have no idea where my father found the world’s largest wooden closet, but he dragged it down into our seemingly impervious cinder-block basement, which was now our de facto fallout shelter.

He set up cots, made an impressive first-aid kit, and somehow managed to get his hands on a giant milk churn in which to store water. It wasn’t long before we were ready for Armageddon.

The only thing left to do was stock the pantry. And that’s when my father lost his mind.

It was like Can-Can Day at ShopRite.

Canned beans.

Canned soup.

Canned pasta.

Canned potatoes.

But the canned product he bought the most of was SPAM.

The basement looked like a bad ‘60s version of “Spamalot.”

Most of the shelves in the cabinet were stacked with SPAM, SPAM, SPAM and SPAM.

I personally hate SPAM and would rather just die in the nuclear winter than have to eat it more than once.

By the end of October, however, there was good news and bad news.

The good news was Nikita blinked and the Russian missiles were removed from Cuba, averting a mushroom cloud surprise for Halloween..

The bad news was, well, you know what it was. We now had to eat all the canned goods in that damn pantry, something we would surely be doing for YEARS!

Soon I was sick of beans, and Campbell's tomato soup, and limp Chef Boyardee pasta, and those tasteless little white potatoes floating in water.

But most of all, I was totally over the SPAM, which my father was now throwing into everything he cooked.

He was Monty Python at the stove: “Egg and SPAM; egg, bacon and SPAM; SPAM egg sausage and SPAM; SPAM, egg SPAM; SPAM, bacon and SPAM.

In the end, the only fallout that rained down on my family in 1962 was a giant payload of canned pork.

And, truth be told, for that blessing I remain most grateful.

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