That evening around 5:30 Skipper Jackson sighted a jet and frantically waved for attention with a rag and a pair of coveralls. Per Jackson the jet circled the lighthouse at Elbow Key and returned. However, the attention they received soon caused the two men to be in fear for their lives. A Cuban MiG jet began firing at the boat and was then joined by 3 more. Wisely, Jackson and Washington avoided any action that would make them appear to be armed. They decided not to try entering the pilot house and stayed as low as they could. There was a second round of firing and the MiGs then continued to circle for about 15 minutes until a U.S. jet appeared followed by 2 more U.S. jets. “We hit the deck and lay there… It really scared me. God! I was really scared. We just lay there because there wasn’t anywhere else to go” Jackson told reporters after they were escorted back to Key West on a Navy destroyer.
The event prompted President Kennedy to issue orders two days later that the military could retaliate against any Cuban attack on U.S. sea or aircraft. Already a touchy time, the Russian Defense Minister responded that any attack against Cuba would prompt a third world war.
Initially reported as rocket fire, a later clarification and accounts by the fishermen maintain that it was machine gun fire. Either way it was a highly volatile situation at the time but has not left much of a trace in the searchable history of the Cold War. Even the The Cold War Museum site has no mention of it. However, to Jackson and Washington we’re sure it made a lasting impression and a great story to hand down!