Cold War Warriors are the keepers of the flame of liberty. They picked up the smoldering lantern within which the flame is carried from their WWII brothers and sisters and, today, continue to spread its light. It is a bold statement to be sure but true none the less.
A warrior is, according to the dictionary, “one who is engaged in or experienced in battle.” The
This house was right on the 38th parallel in Korea and was separated by a wall. Guess which side is in North Korea. (Courtesy of Steve Traywick)
definition is woefully inadequate. In this instance the dictionary is blatantly misleading. Not every individual who fights or prepares to fight a war is a warrior. The Naval Academy’s Prof. Shannon E. French points out that laying a claim to the title ‘warrior’ is reserved to those who meet measures other than simply fighting. He says, “Before we call any collection of belligerents a culture of warriors, we should first ask why they fight, how they fight, what brings them honor, and what brings them shame. The answers to these questions will reveal whether or not they have a true warrior’s code.”
A recent Mark Dice video illustrates the point. Dice is asking people to sign a ‘petition’ to get rid of the Bill of Rights in The Constitution. Every person he approaches signs the ‘petition’, no questions asked. About three minutes into the video, Dice has filled a page with signatures and is waiting for one more. A man on a bicycle rides up and the approach is made. Dice makes his spiel. The guy on the bike looks flabbergasted and says, “No, you’re crazy, it’s part of The Constitution” and threatens to rip the ‘petition’ up. The man on the bike explains that he took an oath to defend and uphold The Constitution. He was in the military and he is the warrior I am talking about.
Pursuing my interest in the lives and times of today’s Cold War (1947-1991) veterans, I petitioned and was accepted as a member of the American Cold War Veterans ‘facebook’ page as well as
Berlin Airlift. C-46s on Ramp 1024
several other Cold War groups like Vet Connect. What were others thinking and saying about the Cold War era, I wondered. It quickly became clear that I fell into a bunch of Americans that are exceptional. Norman Podhoretz, in the Imprimis article, Is America Exceptional? defines the whats and whys of American exceptionalism.
“First of all, unlike all other nations past or present, this one accepted as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. What this meant was that its Founders aimed to create a society in which, for the first time in the history of the world, the individual’s fate would be determined not by who his father was, but by his own freely chosen pursuit of his own ambitions. In other words, America was to be something new under the sun: a society in which hereditary status and class distinctions would be erased, leaving individuals free to act and to be judged on their merits alone. There remained, of course, the two atavistic contradictions of slavery and the position of women; but so intolerable did these contradictions ultimately prove that they had to be resolved—even if, as in the case of the former, it took the bloodiest war the nation has ever fought.”
The Cold War engaged citizens by the tens of millions. Scientists, engineers, technicians, administrators, constructors and paint scrapers, military and civilian were used in every nook and cranny of the twisted landscape in that war. The military personnel sacrificed with little notice unless the ‘Cold War train jumped the track’. The military’s men and women manned icebreakers, drove
tanks, stood post in Berlin, walked the line in Korea, serviced and flew helicopters in Vietnam, handled medical emergencies in hostile situations where they could have been killed by friendly fire, served on aircraft carriers and submarines, and, generally ‘took care of business’. The human beings, our fellow citizens, who served in the military were, most generally, young men and women who had just graduated from high school. Some landed fun, cushy jobs. Most did not.
The youngsters frequently lived in tough situations. Their mommies were not there to help them through but the Master Sergeant, or equivalent, and their buddies were. Some times were hard like
Cold War Berlin Wall. East Germany Peter Fleicher shot while trying to defect. He was left lying there as a lesson. (1962)
watching the Soviets kill people trying to defect or seeing a buddy die. Many times were stressful whether they were coping with boredom, challenge or horror. Many of the Cold War veterans didn’t make the cut or learn the lessons the Cold War offered. They were not meant to be warriors and fell by the wayside.
Many more veterans, however, did make it through the Cold War’s trial by fire. These are the warriors that keep the flame of freedom alive and well. It is possible to read the lessons they learned in their stories, in the poking they do at each other’s units, in their humor, in their gentle reminders to each other about not revealing classified information, and in some instances in the astounding pictures they took. For most, it seems the realization of the value of their time served dawned with the advent of the wisdom born of years of living. They live their various post-Cold War lives’ ups and downs asking for nothing while supporting their fellow servicemen, whether they made the warrior cut or not. The humor I read in their stories is so very American. Whether they mooned a Soviet ship, were pitched overboard to tend an injured sailor, or traded for East German helmets they were and are exceptional and, to a person, deny or decry any accolade.
It is not good or healthy to idealize an organization, even the military. While we should always be respectful and grateful for each soldiers’ sacrifice and service, soldiers are people; old/young,
Cuban Missile Crisis. Running giant extension cordsto power up the Minuteman Missiles in Montana(Photographer Unknown)
good/bad, well/sick, wealthy/poor. The Cold War soldiers who evolved into warriors would, however, make the fifty six signers of the Declaration of Independence proud. Like the fifty six who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Cold War Warriors had everything to lose and little to gain from their time in military service and yet they went. Like the fifty six signers, many Cold War Warriors lost their lives, their health, their fortunes and their families to the Cold War. The fifty six who signed the Declaration of Independence in which they “…mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The signers kept their pledge. Cold War Warriors took an oath to uphold all that the fifty six signers fought, died and sacrificed for to bequeath to our nation and they honor that oath today, irrespective of their walks in life.
Today, as I write this post, the flame in the Lantern of Freedom is being passed to those who served, fought and still serve and fight in the Mid-East and around the globe so that we may continue OUR way of life. Freedom is the greatest legacy.
Author’s Note: The Cold War took a toll on all Americans. Civilians carried water alongside their military counterparts for even less recognition. It was a ‘secret’ war and many died, just simply disappeared or had ‘training accidents’. Many more were left behind, labeled as deserters or Missing In Action. POWs were abandoned to the Gulag or Soviet ‘hospitals’. There are legacies of valor and of governments behaving badly. These are the subjects of other posts.
Recently, however, a Globemaster emerged from the ice of an Alaskan glacier and fifty two more soldiers and their families can rest once more. “Relics from an Air Force cargo plane that slammed into a mountain in November 1952, killing all 52 servicemen on board, first emerged last summer on Colony Glacier, about 50 miles east of Anchorage.”