Unsung Heroes That Won The Cold War

by lewwaters

Once again we prepare to honor those who have served in all of our wars, paying special homage to those who did not return from our wars. Nearly all of us who served in combat zones over our history view those whose names are etched in stone on the many Veterans Memorials as the true heroes of our conflicts.

Viet Nam is labeled as “America’s Longest War” due to our involvement in that country from 1950 to the fall of Saigon in 1975. That 25 years pales when considering that after World War Two, we began engagement in a much longer war, but a more quiet war, a war where our Troops did not fire weapons at the enemy but stood at the ready nonetheless, training for a battle that never materialized.

The “Cold War” was fought with political conflict, military tension, and economic competition with the increasingly threatening build up of the most brutal weapons known to mankind that never were used.

That war lasted 46 years, 1945 to 1991 and was manned by many millions of heroes who often fought boredom in lonely outposts in the Arctic, walked along a fenced border in Europe or flew many hours circling in pre-staging areas armed with nuclear weapons awaiting the order to return any attack against our nation from the very formidable enemy we fought against, the Soviet Union and the oppressive stranglehold that ideology had on so many European countries as they attempted to spread their influence on peaceful nations.

East German Fence

While the world sat on the brink of nuclear annihilation and moved as close as it ever has during the early 1960’s, it never saw the feared nuclear confrontation between the two superpowers, in spite of our engagements in both the Korean and Viet Nam wars.

On November 9, 1989 the world witnessed the beginning of the end of the Soviet Empire as a wall built to divide the city of Berlin Germany came crumbling down, opened by citizens of the divided city who longed to be free and to freely visit relatives who lived on the free side of the city.

President Ronald Reagan’s famous speech where he uttered the ominous words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” two years earlier, saw their fulfillment. The wall dividing Berlin and the fence dividing the country opened up and freedom returned to that half of the country.

By December 1991, the world watched as the Soviet Union itself collapsed

Much credit was given to President Reagan for winning the Cold War, with some preferring to grant credit to President Jimmy Carter for starting the collapse in the late 1970’s.

Truth be known, all presidents who came along during the time of the Cold War continued policies set in motion by President Harry S. Truman shortly after World War Two. It was he who initiated the Berlin Airlift in 1948 to break the blockade of Berlin initiated by the Soviets to force allied powers out.

While we tend to give accolades to presidents and generals for victories, it is the hard work and extraordinary efforts of the common soldiers and officers who flew those planes, loaded and unloaded them and who directed aircraft safely in and out of Berlin that broke the blockade.

Likewise, as we feared invasions from communist nations close and far away or nuclear annihilation from ICBM attacks, it was the common soldiers who again manned sub-freezing temperatures across the northern hemisphere in lonely radar stations in what was called the DEW Line that kept vigil should a Soviet launch begin.

It was common men and women who sat in offices in front of monitors and screens watching 24 hours a day 7 days a week in undisclosed locations watching for any warning sign of a pending attack.

It was ordinary people who joined a peace-time Air Force and who manned bombers armed with nuclear weapons circling the edges of our nation 24 hours a day 7 days a week, leaving their posts only when a relief flight came up top take over.

It was people from all over the country, all races, all colors, descendants of all nationalities who enlisted out of high school or answered the call of the nation in the draft and who served their two years along the borders of Europe, the DMZ of South Korea, Japan, the Philippine Islands and lonely posts spread across the globe and prepared to fight off any enemy that would be foolish enough to try to conquer our nation from outside.

Some of these same people joined in the silent service of our Naval Forces, above and below the surface of the world’s oceans who, like the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command kept constant vigil far away from their homes to keep America and her inhabitants safe from oppression.

Many protected those of my generation who fought in Viet Nam and those who served elsewhere as we grew into adults and learned from their sense of duty to stand up to the oppression of communism and carry forth their vigilance.

As we approach this 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is to those Cold War Warriors who never had to face the enemy head-on, who didn’t have the chance to earn medals of valor, who may have never collected hazardous duty pay, but stood at the ready should they have been called that I dedicate this Veterans Day to this year.

It is to their service and sacrifice that supplied the deterrent we all took for granted that I recognize this year.

Whenever we may feel their contribution to our greatness as a nation was not worth as much as ours, remember the famous photo from 1961 of the East German Soldier leaping across the wire in Berlin to the free west as the city was being divided by the communists.

East German Soldier Leaping

To all my brothers and sisters who served throughout the Cold War, standing watch on cold and miserable nights around the world, well done. Your steadfastness and readiness is what won the Cold War. Your combat may have been boredom, but you stood watch, keeping America safe, always at the ready.

“A veteran – whether active duty, retired, national guard, or reserve – is someone who, at one point in his or her life, wrote a blank check made payable to The ‘United States of America’, for an amount of ‘up to and including my life.’” (Author unknown)

Thank Your Military

Thank you too all who served.

4 Comments to “Unsung Heroes That Won The Cold War”

  1. This was an interesting piece, except you forgot to mention a couple of groups of service members from the cold war. Those men and women who spent time serving in South Korea. I can remember freezing in a rice paddy during training and spending over three months on the DMZ. I was lucky and didn’t have to sit in a guardpost for 30 days, but many of my friends did. We spent 12 – 13 months of our young lives sitting on the border of a communistic country who threatened to reunify the country. Also the service members who protected the Panama Canal Zone. I was there when President Bush stopped through on his way to the Earth Summit in Rio. One soldier from my battalion was killed and another wounded by the M-20 when they shot up thier HMMV in the rain forest. We also losted men in Hondouras and El Salvador in the 90’s.

    Thanks again for posting this.


  2. You are correct, james. It is difficult to cover everybody individually. My main effort was to express thanks to those who served during the Cold War era and are largely forgotten for their contribution.

    To list every unit and every location would take a book.

    But, as I said, this was to say thanks to all who didn’t get to the “hot spots” but served and performed as expected.

    For me personally, after 18 months in Viet Nam, I was sent to Germany where for 3 years we flew along the fenced borders between West and East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Being in helicopters, I was fortunate enough to come back in every night unless we were in the field.

    I was there during the Munich Olympics in 1972 and as the Baider-Meinhoff Gang reactivated in opposition to the west.

    We lost several people during the Cold War who do not merit the medals others received, but their loss is none the less important to us all as a nation.

    Thank you for your service and rest assured, all who served merit that thanks.


  3. Thanks again Lew. Some of us served in both areas as you note. Somehow I think I accomplished more in Turkey than in SE Asia.

    I still have a lot of mixed emotions, but I was extremely fortunate not to have been in any heated battles. I cast the military off at Ft. Hood in 1969. Some of my time there was spent assigned to work with some of our jailed ASA guys who preformed well under fire in Vietnam only to go AWOL as soon as they got back to the states. A lot of general discharges… I hope they eventually got upgraded. Couldn’t feel good about their situations in light of how comparatively easy I had it.


  4. I never made it to Turkey, Pat, although I was on stand by for the Yom Kippur War if we would have been needed.

    You got out about the time I was going in, Feb 69, after 3 years a civilian after High School. I thought I was going to be missed, but received a draft notice anyways. So, I went down and enlisted with the idea I could avoid Viet Nam by asking for aircraft.

    Didn’t work, LOL.

    I don’t regret Viet Nam. I served with some of the gretest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet and am still in contact with some, including my best buddy that I lost contact with for 35 years after he was shot down and medevaced to Japan before I could visit him in the hospital.

    It doesn’t really matter where we served, we were sent to do a job and for the most part, did what was needed.

    Pat, we will continue to disagree on many things and at times, will agree. But, our service is not part of that. You stood up and you served and for that, I thank you.


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