Remembering the Cold Warriors

Both the public and policy makers will be debating the wisdom of the nuclear reduction treaty that president Obama recently concluded with Russia for quite some time, as well they should. The stakes don’t get much bigger. Joe Lieberman said that the treaty won’t make it through the Senate unless there are significant modifications to the pact. That seems the probable result, especially if the Senate voting on the treaty includes, as seems likely, more Republican members.

I’m not up to speed enough on the merits and risks of this deal to comment on it. But, whenever nuclear reduction is on the table, I suspect that I’m not the only baby-boomer to recall a time when the ominous specter of nuclear war loomed just over the horizon, not as a somewhat unsettling possibility, but – in our then-young imaginations – a likely probability. For many young people today, the threat of terrorism, if they worry about it at all, is something that involves a couple of wars half a world away, and that threat probably wouldn’t exist at all if George W. Bush weren’t such an arrogant, imperialist cowboy. Could they even imagine a childhood that featured – not terrorism – but actual terror on a daily basis; the terror that a Soviet missile would streak over the horizon at any moment?  You learned to “duck and cover” at elementary school. Everybody knew where the nearest fall-out shelter was. If your dad drove you down the right road, you might get a glimpse of the nearby Nike defensive missile site as he grimly explained its purpose.

The nuclear Armageddon that everyone expected never happened, even after the guy that the Democrats assured us was a crazy cowboy from California, certain to turn the world into a smoldering ruin, was first elected president in 1980. (Democrats using crazed hyperbole to advance their political prospects – who could have seen that coming?) A big part of the reason that we baby-boomers never had to run to the fall-out shelter or cower beneath our desks was the professionalism, vigilance and courage of the cold-warriors who stared down the Soviet Union over the course of five decades. Will the Cold Warriors ever get their due? For it’s certain that, but for their tireless dedication to the defense of this nation we wouldn’t even be in a position to talk to our somewhat subdued, but by no means emasculated, Cold War opponent about further reducing nuclear weapons.

It’s easy to overlook the Cold Warriors. In the forty-four years of the Cold War, the United States was engaged in two major “hot wars” with Soviet proxies – in Korea and Viet Nam – and numerous skirmishes in lesser theaters. We recognize, and justifiably so, the valor of the soldiers, marines, sailors and aviators who put themselves in harm’s way when bullets were flying. Yet, the Cold Warriors charged with keeping the peace were no less important to America than the grim soldiers slogging through rice paddies in Indochina.

The Cold Warriors’ mission demanded two diametrically opposed skills. On the one hand, they had to demonstrate unparalleled proficiency, such that the Soviets always knew that they were facing an opponent who was as least as good as they were, if not a fair bit better, at the art of waging war. On the other hand, while they might flaunt their proficiency, that demonstration could not be allowed to turn into outright confrontation. It was a very fine line and all of the Cold Warriors were expected to know exactly where it was drawn. The Cold War was a game of chicken on a global scale, with the greatest possible stakes on the table, and our troops played the game better than anyone could have ever imagined.

The Cold Warriors paid a price in blood as well. A friend who flew in P-3 Orions chasing Soviet subs during the Cold War ruefully observed that daily losses of life among military personnel during the Cold War often exceeded monthly losses in today’s Iraq War. He wasn’t being disrespectful or ungrateful to the boots on the ground risking their lives in Iraq, rather he was plaintively observing that the nature of the Cold War meant that those killed fighting it were, by necessity, generally invisible to the public’s eye. Cold Warriors killed while doing their job were, the vast majority of the time, officially lost “in training accidents” rather than in combat. It had to be that way. If an Orion pilot dumped his aircraft pursuing a Soviet missile boat as part of a war that did not officially exist, how could the crew be honored for giving their lives in combat? That’s not a criticism of the way the United States government treated such situations, but – twenty one years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – perhaps it is an admission that is’s time to publically acknowledge the bravery, heroism and dedication of the Cold Warriors.

Hollywood heavyweight Tom Hanks has dedicated a great deal of time, money and effort towards telling the personal stories of the men who fought and won World War II. For that, he is to be commended. But, most of us are well aware of the heroism and patriotism of our fathers and grandfathers that fought in that war. The inspiring stories of the Cold Warriors are, for the most part, still sadly untold. How about it Tom? Let’s give this generation of heroes their due, before they are too old to appreciate it. They sure as hell deserve it.

  • Leon J. Neisius

    I recall about 60 years ago as a young child going out in the front yard of my house and looking up at the sky searching for Russian bombers carrying the "A" bomb. Twenty years later I was in the Air Force at Strategic Air Command Headquarters doing assessments of Russian military systems in support of what we called the SIOP (Single Integrated Operations Plan). SIOP was the nuclear war plan that, thankfully, we never had to execute. We lived and breathed nuclear war, intending through strength to avoid one. We understood the nature of the strategic threat and the consequences of nuclear war better than anyone, anywhere. My most vivid memory of my five years at SAC Headquarters was a conversation I had with a good friend. It was 1972 and things were changing in society with some people demanding newly discovered "rights". My comment to my buddy went something like this: "Jim, I'm more worried about the moral degradation that is happening in the country and the threat it poses than I am with all the nuclear weapons the Soviets have." What followed in society sadly substantiated that fear.


  • Suzanne Levy

    Excellent idea. I, for one, would like to learn more.

  • whitebaiter

    Dude, the Soviets felt the threat to, as witnessed by US missiles on launch pads in Turkey. Threats go both ways, don't they?

    • Hammer2

      Soviet lies & propaganda – the fact is that the Soviet Union was an agressive militaristic country that wanted to spread Communism around the globe. Only the stalwart opposition of the United States prevented them from accomplishing their aims.
      It was ONLY their fear of what we could do to them that kept them from outright invasion & occupation of Europe & Asia. Even then, they strove mightily to create phony "Revolutions" around the world to try & win the war without confronting us directly.

      • NYCer

        You know, if you replace "Soviet Union" with "USA" and "communism" with "democracy", and "United States" with "Russia"- it reads just fine.

        US funds dubious "color revolutions" that do absolutely nothing useful, invades foreign countries to spread its ideology, and the only thing that keeps US from taking over the world is fear of other countries nukes.

        Food for thought.

        • Stephen_Brady

          There's no need to take the action you recommend. Hammer's assessment is the correct one.

          To accept your view, we would have to turn ourselves into Charlton Heston, shouting, "It's a madhouse, a madhouse!"

          • Rifleman

            I'd starve off that post. North Korea is no different from South Korea? Where is "democracy" found in our founding documents? Why haven't we taken over Mexico, they have no nukes? Lots of things read fine, until they hit reality.

        • Chief1942

          Hate your country that much ?

    • Rifleman

      Dude, like if there’s no difference, then like why did the commies have to build a wall to keep their people from leaving? Dude, like what’s the difference between a system instituted to protect private property, and one instituted to destroy it? Dude, like why did they predicate the existence of their socioeconomic system on the worldwide destruction of ours?

      • trickyblain

        Nice response :)

    • elcid76

      The nukes in Turkey had a max range of about 25 miles. That was the Honest John rocket of which I was a team leader on. They were never an offensive threat to the Russians. ALso they knew where we were so none of us expected to live more than a few minutes if we ever went to war.

  • davarino

    I cant see Hollywood making a movie about the demise of something they charished.

    • trickyblain

      Hunt for Red October? Top Gun? Charlie Wilson's War? Rambo? Red Dawn? Gorky Park? 3 Days in October?

  • Patrick Cicarelli

    A few years prior to 9/11/01, if memory serves correctly, a congressman from NY introduced a bill which created The Cold War Service Recognition Certificate. Any member who served from the immediate post-WW2 era until the Berlin Wall came down was entitled to apply for it. I believe that the office in the Pentagon which served as the center of this initiative was damaged on 9/11. I recieved mine in 2000, signed by SecDef Rumsfeld. Can any readers advise whether this office is still operating. It may be but a small token of recognition, but I knew plenty of Viet Nam vets whom I encouraged to apply (and did). They were extremely proud to have the certificate.

    • Dan Johnson

      I recieved mine two years ago signed by Sec. Robert Gates. It's still available for all Cold War Vets.

  • Stephen_Brady

    Every victory in the Cold War … and America's victory in the War, itself … was paid for by the blood of patriots whose deeds will never be known. They worked in the shadows, gathering information. And when they were caught, they were interrogated, tortured, and executed.

    Stephen R. Keppes resigned as Deputy Director, CIA, last week. His reason? CIA Chief Leon Panetta … a man who knows nothing about intelligence, and a political hack for Obama … is systematically destroying the greatest intelligence agency the world has ever seen.

  • gpcase

    I believe NYCer suffers from moral relativism, which leads to moral confusion, self-doubt and appeasement. Yes, both sides feared the other. Our support for popular revolutions today is similar to our containment strategy because liberty and tyranny have always been irreconcilable. They cannot exist side-by-side in peace for very long because one must necessarily destroy the other. Moral clarity answers the question: which side is good and which is evil? Wisdom and courage tell us there are some things worth fighting for.

  • gpcase

    Consider this: Eastern Europeans fled to West Berlin and across the Iron Curtain to freedom. They were put down in Budapest in '56, Prague in '68 and Gdansk in '81. The Soviets had to imprison them in a vain attempt to avoid their inevitable collapse. The Communists had to imprison their populations and destroy freedom one nation at a time or they would implode. History teaches many important lessons, but only for those who are wise enough to see clearly: peace is achieved through wisdom, courage, and strength, not by appeasement or compromising one's principles.

  • WSamCole

    A Cold War Warrior, sure I was one.

    Four years a US Air Force Radar Operator from 1957 to 1961, with 13 months on a remote hill top in Morocco keeping the world safe. Then, three years in the US Army from 1961 to 1964. Including one year on a mountain top in Korea as a Nike Fire Control Maintenance man, with a wife and two children back home, still keeping the world safe. For that, in due time, I was awarded the Cold War Service Recognition Certificate.

    Do you really want to know, who we "Tea Baggers" are? Some of us, are the ones who served and secured this country that you are ripping apart, while you partied and laughted and spit at us. And, we want our country back!

    'Just an old Cold War Warrior'

    • Stephen_Brady

      Bless you, Sam!

    • Rifleman

      Some base we used to past in Florida when I was a kid had a Nike Ajax on display at the entrance. The Nikes evolved into our first ABMs didn’t they?

    • Hoot

      Sam worked in the IFC area while I was Launcher Platoon Leader and later IFC Platoon leader. Yes, the Cold War Warriors deserve better!!! I raised the Isalfinches because "If it flies, It dies". Yes, I would have vaporized Peking!!!

      I'm still sworn to protect and and uphold our Constitution. The oath was never retracted upon discharge! I carry a pocket version, today. This United States of American is NOT the country Sam and others like myself put it on the line to defend. The current political regime has and continues to "stomp" on yours and mine Constitutional Rights. The Tea Party wants our Country back to a true democracy as founded by our forefathers. Don't Tread On ME!!!

      Sam , you forgot the damned draft dodgers that turned yellow and ran to Canada, the draft card burners, and the Chickens that worshiped the Great American Chicken Track" We all know what that is…the circle with the chicken track in it and called a peace symbol!

      There was also a medal to be awarded with the certificate…anyone get one!

    • Qpro4inc

      I served in the 8th Division in Germany from 1960 to 1963. I was alerted to go to Berlin the night the wall went up. I well remember that we were expected to fight a rear guard action against soviet forces that outnumbered us 10 to 1. I also remember how we could not keep our SP artillery running because there was no budget for spare parts for these remnants of WWII
      Now I watch the President doing his best to destroy the country that we are sworn to defend.

    • bronish

      Thank you for your service! My father was a WWll veteran, and we were raised to respect the flag of freedom, and to honor our vets, and to love our country…hell yeah, liberty-loving Americans, like me, want our country back!!
      I pray God that we do whatever it takes to secure our rights and freedoms that were never given to us by man anyway….our rights and freedoms were given to us by our Creator!!
      Anyway, I'm done for now…WSamCole, thanks again for your service!

  • ApolloSpeaks

    I'd rather be dead than Obama red.

    Google my name ApolloSpeaks (one word on Town Hall) and read my piece: From Kaczynski to Kyrgyzstan: Ominous "Coincidences"

  • Tim

    Here, here! As a current military officer and a dependent of a Cold Warrior, I too wish America could see and admire the sacrifices and courage of the men and women who served during that 40 year period. Living on an airbase in Germany in the late 70s, early 80s, I remember being scared to death on numerous occasions as my dad would go on Alert and be gone for 72 to 96 hours at a time, not knowing if they were just exercises or the Russians were pouring through the Fulda Gap.
    I am forever greatful for my father's service and the service of all our Cold Warriors. Cheers!

  • Jim

    Dude thank-you, and you're welcome. In uniform 1973 through Gulf 1. Been there, done that.

  • elewis

    bob dyan said it all : all along the watchtower, princes kept the view

  • elcid76

    My overseas tour was in Turkey during the Carter regime. I was at a special weapons base and my job in a war was to keep the Russion Black Sea fleet from getting into the Mediterranean with 50 Americans and 250 Turks. We were basically sacrificial lambs in case of war and we were fairly fatalistic about the whole thing.
    Since my time in service was during the longest period without real combat, I am not eligible for American Legion membership or recognition that we served and kept the world from blowing up.

  • freedom fighter

    Ronald Reagan stood firm, along with others over the years, and the Soviet Empire fell apart. Have our current leaders learned anything from this? No, they do the opposite of what works.

  • Rich Trzupek

    To all of you Cold Warriors who posted a comment: God Bless you and please accept the gratitude of a baby-boomer who was allowed to pursue a career and raise a family because you were had our backs. My eldest brother Gene was one of you – serving in Nam (awarded the Bronze Star) and then serving in Germany among his other postings. I'm proud to say "thanks" to anyone who has ever served our nation in uniform, but I'm especially proud to do so when it comes to you guys – what you accomplished was truly remarkable and, though few talk about it publicly, a great many of us realize that. I salute you all!

  • Steve R.

    U.S. Navy, 1957-1963. My primary job was flight crew radar operator in an airborne early warning unit, VW-11. The AEW squadrons operating from Argentia, Newfoundland, Midway Island, and Barber's Point, HI wrote the original book on what we now know as AWACS. I got my Cold War Recognition Certificate some years back, and it has a prime space on my den wall. But it can never make up for the crews we lost to accidents, weather, or "unknown" causes. Nor can it hold a candle to the bonding among the individual crew members whose lives were in each other's hands.

  • John Phillips

    I am a Cold War Vet. We trained hard and were strong. Congress refused to create a medal for Cold War vets. The Cold War Commemorative Medal is the biggest selling medal in the world. Thank you cowards in Congress for your concern.

  • Roy Patterson

    thanks for the great article! I served with the 1st Squadron of the 14th Armored Cavalry from 1966-1969. Our Squadron manned OP Alpha on the border near Fulda, Germany.
    I remember when "the bad guys" changed the type of fence, maybe late 66 or early 67 from barbed wire to a stamped steel fencing. The workers had armed soldiers watching over their shoulders. The diamond shaped holes would do serious damage to someones' fingers if they tried to climb it!
    They kept the OP Alpha site as a border museum. You can find it on the web as OP Alpha.
    Those were the longest nearly three years in my life but I am proud to have served.
    Roy Patterson
    B Troop 1st Squadron
    14th Armored Cavalry
    Bravo 3

    • Stephen_Brady

      God bless you, Roy!

      DELTA/2/501/101st 1968-69

    • Gary R. Burrows

      Roy, I was Sgt Gary Burrows, 1st Pltn., Scout Sect. Sgt. from April 66 to Nov. 67 B-Troop under SSgt. Brophy.

  • JohnnyK

    Thanks to you all that commented here and for the article. For some reason I have been thinking a lot lately about my Cold Warrior status. Maybe because I do not like what has been going on in our country for the past year. I served – US Navy 1972-1982. Lots of time spent making grey things go through the water chasing submarines off the East Coast, doing OPS with Orions, test fires of ASROCS, planeguard duty off the a** end of a carrier and three trips to GITMO & Vasquez Island to test our skills in simulated wartime conditions. I remember the day one of my guys asked me why we do it and I said the usual "somebody's got to do it" quick remark not knowing what else to say at the time. In retrospect, I am glad I was part of it all. I am proud to say – I was a Cold Warrior. Man, we need another Ronnie. JohnnyK in Philly

  • Jerry88ACWV

    All Cold Warriors:
    We all stood ready 24/7 it did not matter what our rate/rank/mos/job description. We knew
    what might happen at any moment, and we were prepared. As a Navy Radioman 1960-1970 I saw many morning reports, things that never made the newspaper.

    Please join the American Cold War Veterans in our crusade. Contact both of your Senators
    ask them to cosponsor bill S.2743 The Cold War Service Medal Act 2009. Contact your
    Representative ask them to cosponsor bill H.R.4051 The Cold War Service Medal Act 2009(identical to the Senate bill).

    Demand that the medal be included in the National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA)2011.

    This would authorize a Cold War Service Medal to those who served honorably in the Cold War, from Sept. 1945 to Dec. 1991.

    We have been pursuing this medal for over ten years without success. Let us make this the
    year the medal is finally authorized. Then we have to convince DoD not to object, as they
    have in the past. The Pentagon opposes the bill on a cost basis(which is way out of line)
    DoD also claims duplication of awards. How many of you served your tour of duty and
    never got any medal or ribbon? Far too many.

    It is time, way past time to say Thank You Cold Warriors, without you it would not have been accomplished. We would either be speaking Russian or be a pile of radioactive dust.

    Our website my blog can be found at http://jerry88acwv-americancoldwarveterans.blogsp

  • a. steffen

    from 1946-1989 the world was in a shadow of a conflict. not a war nor a peace……..there
    were millions of service memebers during that time that stood watch……without hardly
    a thank you. look up what a armed forces sercice medal, national defense medal,
    nato medal, overseas ribbon means. if those medals were being handed out during
    the cold war, most would qualify that were stationed overseas. "war on terrorism" , would
    quickly be "war on communism" , as was fought global also. however, most got a
    blank 214 and out the door. today we are fighting a worldwide enemy terrorism.long
    ago we fought a worldwide enemy, communism . ..has it become comman practice
    to disrgard and disrespect someone's prior service? it's all about respect and honor.
    show this generation that what we did in the past we did for them and the future.
    the cold war service medal isn't about a medal, it's about a outward sign , that at
    one time the world was in grave danger and a few stepped forward , answering
    their country and the world……

  • JohnnyK

    This article motivated me to do more. I sent for and received my Cold War certificate and started my own blog. Please visist and read what other Cold Warriors have to say. Email me at with your Cold War service story and I'll post it. Thanks to all that served. JohnnyK in Philly

  • Lee McCaslin

    See my new NF book SECRETS OF THE COLD WAR, available on Still time to get as Christmas present.

  • CaptainTrouble

    In the US Army Signal Corps I was a part of the actions to "bring the wall down." So much of what I did cannot be discussed for National Security reasons. Nobody knows what many of us cold warriors did to ensure freedom for this nation, for the West, and our hopes for freedom in all the world. It is heart-breaking to see the young people now so willing to give up these freedoms for a handout – or five minutes of fame.