U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell’s riveting televised performance Wednesday charging that Iraq has been evading U.N. weapons inspectors has inevitably led to comparisons of Adlai Stevenson’s historic October 1962 presentation to the United Nations about the Soviet Union’s placement of missiles in Cuba.
After Stevenson made the case, President John F. Kennedy ordered a blockade of Cuba. Congress had already adjourned to gear up for the 1962 midterm elections, so the president summoned Hill leaders back to D.C. to help deal with the Cuban missile crisis.
This was long before the days of cellphones and BlackBerries, so White House Congressional liaison Larry O’Brien had a difficult time tracking down Hill leaders like Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) and others.
A little levity was added to the tense standoff with the Soviet Union when the White House desperately tried to track down House Majority Whip Hale Boggs (D-La.), who had to be yanked by helicopter from a fishing jaunt in the Gulf of Mexico and flown to Washington in a jet fighter plane.
Here’s the humorous story of Boggs, still smelling slightly of fish, being trussed in a pressure suit and oxygen mask for the high-speed trip to Washington for emergency meetings — as reported in the Oct. 24, 1962, edition of Roll Call:
“The mild-spoken whip had been king of a Dairy Festival and Fair at Abbeville, La., Friday and Saturday, decided to rest with a quick fishing trip.
“Boggs and some friends embarked in a fishing cruiser from the Gulf resort town of Grande Isle on Sunday night to insure their arrival in good fishing waters Monday morning. They stopped about 30 miles out, a quarter of a mile from a huge ‘Texas Tower’ oil derrick.
“The boat has no ship-to-shore telephone, so when Larry O’Brien’s harried staff called Boggs’ Washington office for help in locating him Monday morning, the situation looked hopeless. A Louisiana oil company with a helicopter was finally contacted. The chopper flew out over the Gulf to hunt for the Boggs party.
“Sighting the boat, the helicopter landed on the nearby oil rig and the pilot began shouting over a hand megaphone: ‘Is Congressman Boggs there? We’ve got to get him off.’
“Boggs was reading a newspaper in the below-deck cabin. ‘Ridiculous,’ he declared when friends scurried down to tell him he was being paged. Out of curiosity, he went up to see what was happening.
“Meantime, another oil company sent out an amphibious plane. It dropped a bottle sealed with a cork and flying a tiny red flag. The boat took about ten minutes to reach it. It seemed like hours to Boggs, imagining family tragedies or other mishaps.
“The bottle contained a cryptic message: ‘Please call operator…, Washington DC. Larry O’Brien has an urgent message from the President.’
“In his fishing togs, Boggs was hoisted about 150 feet from the ocean to the top of the ‘Texas Tower,’ where he boarded the still-waiting helicopter. Flying to Grand Isle, he changed to a suit but did not have time for a shower. He called O’Brien and was told a jet awaited him at the Allen Callender Field in New Orleans.
“When the nonplussed Boggs arrived at the Field, he found a two-seat fighter jet — not a transport. The pilot gave him a 15-minute checkout on ejection techniques and other information, and they took off on the fastest ride of Boggs’ life.
“The lawmaker had carried a sandwich to eat during the trip but couldn’t, due to the fact that he had to wear a ‘space suit’ and face mask.
“Boggs arrived at Washington’s Andrews Air Force Base and was hustled by car to the White House barely in time for the 5 PM briefing.”
Footnote: Boggs later rose to the position of House Majority Leader, but died in a plane crash in Alaska in October of 1972.