A recent piece by George Will {"Romanticizing the Cuban Missile Crisis," Sept. 3} and a letter {"Missile Crisis 'Bunk' " Sept. 17} suggested that there was no real "brink of nuclear war" during the Cuban missile crisis, that the incident was merely a "public relations ploy" by President Kennedy to pretend we were in a crisis.

While I cannot speak to the level of Soviet readiness or response to President Kennedy's threatened interception of their ships heading for Cuba, or to U.S. nuclear "sword-rattling," I do know the U.S. military response almost brought us to nuclear warfare.

I learned from an Air Force engineer, part of the Strategic Air Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, that he was ordered to accompany the pilots on nuclear-readiness flights during the key days in 1962. The sole reason such technicians board those flights, he said, is to be ready to arm the nuclear warheads.

Following the instruction codes from the Pentagon command, and presidential direction, these flights came within 30 seconds of "fail-safe," the no-return command for a nuclear attack on Cuba. If that's not a "brink," perhaps the critics would like to step a bit closer? JOHN JUDGE Washington