Candy Moulton: From Encampment To Russia To Cuba

Candy Moulton writes, "I asked Nikita Khrushchev's son: 'At the time of the October 1962 events, the Cuban Missile Crisis, which side won the standoff?' 'My father did,' Sergio Khrushchev answered without hesitation."

Candy Moulton

June 18, 20246 min read

Khrushchev 6 18 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

The news late last week that Russian ships are trolling in the water around Cuba brought to mind the events that occurred in October 1962, when I was a first grader.

And reminded me of one of the most incredible interview opportunities of my career.

When Nikita Khrushchev sent warships to Cuba in 1962, his provocative move put U.S. President John F. Kennedy on high alert in what is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It was an escalation of tension that became palpable, even in our small town of Encampment.

I distinctly remember my mother telling my sister and I that if “anything happened” that caused the school to send us home quickly, we were to go home with our cousins, who lived a mile away from our ranch house.

The reason: They had a basement in their house that served as a milk room. It had a cement floor and was a good place for us to take shelter.

We’d already had some instruction at school about the need to “duck and cover” should a nuclear war break out…a message delivered by Bert the Turtle.

Fast forward five decades. I was working on a project developing films for Minuteman Missile National Historic Site near Wall, South Dakota.

Our production team had filmed at the decommissioned launch control center Delta 01 and at an active ICBM site in western Nebraska that is under the F.E. Warren AFB missile wing.

We had interviewed former missileers, security personnel, and key commanders and missile experts.

One of our tasks was to show both the American and the Soviet perspectives of the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program and the Cold War. We’d interviewed Russian citizens, now living in the United States.

From a Russian producer we had obtained interview footage of Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Russian Air Defense service who is credited with saving the world in September 1983.

That incident happened just three weeks after a Korean Airline had been shot down by the Soviet military.

An early-warning system in Russia reported a missile was launched from the United States toward Russia. The report also showed that five more missiles also were inbound.

Petrov, the duty officer in the command center for the Soviet early warning system, did not believe it.

He decided that the reports were a false alarm. And he did not launch Soviet missiles in response. His decision certainly affected the course of world history.

That event occurred more than 20 years after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had faced off against President Kennedy in the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

During the 1962 events, America’s Minuteman Missile program went online, on October 22.

The first missiles, based out of Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, became known as Kennedy’s Ace in the Hole.

Subsequent missile wings developed in Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Kansas.

When working on the films we were producing in 2017, we realized that Nikita Khrushchev’s son, Sergio, was living in the United States.

We decided we’d try to get an interview with him, and as the producer on the project it was my job to see if I could make that happen.

Sergio Khrushchev had a position with Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and with a bit of research I found out the name of the town where he now lives.

Before long I had his home phone number and placed a call. A woman’s voice was on the other end of the line when the phone stopped ringing.

I explained who I was and that I wanted to talk with Sergio Khrushchev about an interview. She kindly told me that he was her husband and she would have him call me back when he returned from the store.

Later that day, I was on the phone with him. We visited about the project and he agreed he would sit down for an hour-long interview.

I flew to Massachusetts to be in the studio and conduct the interview. We had a car service drive Khrushchev from his home about an hour away. I had prepared a long series of questions, that I knew would fill our hour of agreed-upon time.

Khrushchev was kind and articulate as he spoke of the Russian missile program.

He talked of walking in the garden with his father and hearing about the plans for Sputnik.

He spoke of being with his father at a meeting in a Russian community when Sputnik launched. It was a momentous time for the Russian people – proof that they were at that time leading the space race.

When his father received the news about the Sputnik launch, he had no time to really react or reflect, Khruschev told us in the interview.

That is because the people in the community he was visiting had concerns about roads and other public issues they wanted to discuss.

Our hour was up before I knew it and I’d gotten through my list of questions. We were wrapping up when the director of the film asked me, “Didn’t you have one other question?”

Indeed, I did, but I’d been hesitant to ask it because I feared it might end the interview. Now with everything we needed already said and recorded, there was no risk.

“Yes, Mr. Khrushchev, I do have one more question: At the time of the October 1962 events, often called the Cuban Missile Crisis, which side won the standoff?”

“My father did,” Sergio Khrushchev answered without hesitation.

I was taken aback, but responded, “Could you explain why you say that?”

“We sailed our ships to Cuba. President Kennedy did not attack; he backed down. We sailed home. We proved that we could go anywhere we wanted, anytime we wanted.”

Sometimes looking at an international incident through a different lens opens your own eyes.

Here in America, I know my family, and most Americans, believed Kennedy had won the day and forced the Russians to retreat.

History is always a matter of understanding issues better after the fact than at the time they are happening. And seeing both sides of the story can be really revealing.

It was a fascinating interview with Sergio Khrushchev, certainly one I will always remember. It was inspiring to have a chance to shake the hand and ask direct questions of a man just one step removed from one of the giants in world history.

The film we developed, “Beneath the Plains: The Minuteman Missile on Alert” went on to win many awards.

It plays at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site and can be viewed below.

And now, I only hope that Russia takes its ships and nuclear sub currently in the waters near Cuba and goes home again.

 Candy Moulton can be reached at

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Candy Moulton

Wyoming Life Columnist

Wyoming Life Columnist