NEACP-Primary landed back at Andrews AFB at 1303 hours local time, roughly twenty-five hours after the aircraft had departed from the base. As President Reagan and a contingent of his advisers and Cabinet secretaries deplaned, other senior members of the US government remained outside the District of Columbia and would remain so for the duration. Vice President George Bush remained airborne aboard a second E-4B, orbiting somewhere over the central US. The Speaker of the House and a contingent of other members of the line of succession were spread out at a number of survivable relocation sites or alternate command centers from southern Pennsylvania to the mountains of West Virginia.
Reagan’s return to the White House was muted. Once settled in the Oval Office, he initiated a phone conference with leaders from the House of Representatives and Senate. Around the same time, the Secretaries of State and Defense began contacting their counterparts in other NATO nations. The topics of discussion varied. For Weinberger, Germany and the nuclear alert were the two subjects taking priority. Meanwhile, Shultz used the time to shore up the resolve of a few wavering NATO foreign ministers. There was no imminent danger to alliance unity, but after Madrid, the senior diplomats from some of NATO’s smaller member-states were seeking firm reassurances from the United States on the invulnerability of its security commitment to Western Europe. Shultz pointed to Gorki as incontrovertible proof of the US commitment to its allies in Europe.
Later in the afternoon, a National Security Council meeting was held. The President laid out his guidelines for future operations in Europe, explaining in detail what the NATO goals would be for the coming days. Operations around the rest of the world were also discussed, with particular attention being given to Strike Fleet Atlantic’s activities. For the benefit of everyone present, Reagan restated his intention to order a resumption of air operations against targets on the Kola Peninsula while leaving the SSBN bastion untouched. A short debate broke out on the sensibility of keeping the bastion off limits, given that the nuclear genie was out of the bottle now. Reagan listened to the arguments but remained unbent in his decision for the moment. The alert status of US strategic forces was also looked over. All seaworthy US ballistic missile submarines were now either at or approaching their patrol stations. SAC’s bomber force was back on the ground and resuming its alert posture with dispersal options being brought into play for the first time in the war. The ICBM force remained poised at a high level of readiness.
At 8:30 PM that evening, Ronald Reagan addressed the nation on television from the Oval Office. His tone was one of cautious optimism. There had been no further use of nuclear weapons in twenty-four hours. Although the war would continue to be prosecuted, Reagan believed the nuclear threat had subsided. This was, of course, something of a false statement. Nevertheless, the American people needed reassurance at this time more than anything else. Next, he urged Americans to return to their homes and remain there. The spontaneous evacuation of US urban centers that started not very long after Madrid’s destruction had strained local and state law enforcement and emergency services assets to the breaking point. In order to keep those services intact and available, Reagan was asking people to be ‘good neighbors’ and help during this difficult time instead of hinder. Deep down, however, Reagan empathized with the people who had decided to bolt from the major cities. They were scared and understandably so.
In Moscow, General Secretary Romanov had returned to the Kremlin from a leadership bunker south of the city. His core supporters in the Politburo, along with other members of the body would start arriving back after midnight. State media was now openly reporting the nuclear attack on Gorki but withholding any mention of the circumstances that led to the city’s destruction. Romanov knew he needed to address his people before the masses began drawing their own conclusions from the lack of news and rumors starting to circulate.
Author’s Note: Ending D+19 with a teaser about Moscow. D+20 will start with a politics post describing the situation in Moscow. But for now, it’s time to start setting up the holiday tournament. 😊