Friday, June 22, 2007

Cold War cost paid differently

And response from Dr. Frank Tims National Legislative Director of The CWVA
Column by The Kentucky Post's Jack Hicks

Like millions of other Cold War veterans, Frank Stallings of Highland Heights was never shot at.

But he did miss the birth of his son and spent 14 months in Germany before getting his first look at the child.

And even without enemy fire, threats to life and limb were real. In Stallings' Army division, for example, 21 soldiers died in training accidents during a single year.

Shooting wars are milestones in our nation's history, richly detailed in books and honored in stone monuments. But those born since America ended the draft may be largely unaware of the veterans who served and sweated, and sometimes cried and bled, between the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Stallings, a retired English professor and a former faculty regent at Northern Kentucky University, returned to campus this week to tell his personal story of Cold War service as part of the university's Military History Series.

Stallings really didn't want to be in the military, but Uncle Sam required it. Faced with the draft, Stallings chose officers candidate school. He later withdrew and served out his hitch as an enlisted man.

Stallings was older than most of his peers, a college graduate and married. His parents had schooled him in washing dishes, making beds and shining shoes, so basic training wasn't too hard.

At 110 pounds, he was able to ''slip in and slip out'' of his Army bunk and didn't have to do much to remake it each day.

He could type, and learned quickly that ''you could get out of things by typing.''

The Korean War was being fought during Stallings' tour, but he was sent to Europe.

''Talk about a party. . .,'' he said, of the troops being assigned to Germany rather than Korea. ''It was just the luck of the draw.''

After a rough trip across the Atlantic in a troop ship, Stallings found himself as a typ ist at an infantry headquarters in a small German town. A native of the Texas Panhandle, where the wind constantly blows, he discovered that snow actually fell straight down, not sideways.

Like all soldiers, Stallings and his peers spent a lot of time complaining and trying as best as possible to avoid work.

But in retrospect, the duty wasn't so bad. They found time for local restaurants and travel around Europe, seeing Paris and London.

Stallings learned to operate within and outside the system. He wrote for the regimental newspaper and became known as ''the best coffee-maker in headquarters.''

American soldiers were issued two cartons of cigarettes a week, and although it was illegal, they became a medium of exchange with the Germans.

''I don't think anyone ever cared. It helped the German economy,'' Stallings said.

But the duties of a soldier, even a typist, included training in the field. That meant cold, muddy and primitive conditions, and the threat of Russian troops just across the border in Czechoslovakia.

Those were the days, of course, when Americans at home, as well as on the front lines, were constantly reminded, ''the Russians are coming.'' They didn't, and America eventually won the Cold War.

What made their time bearable was knowing they weren't alone. If you were miserable and homesick, at least there was plenty of company.

In his waning months in Germany, Stallings missed his buddies, who were sent home one by one, and counted the days until his own time was up. Eventually he was reunited with his wife, Virginia, and met his son, David.

The GI Bill paid for Stallings' graduate degrees and preparation to teach college classes. Now 71, he came to NKU in the early 1970s and retired eight years ago.

Just like millions of other servicemen and women of the Cold War era, Stallings doesn't see himself as a hero. Whether his, and their, contribution won the war may be for the ages to determine.

''But we were there, and that's important. We were there,'' he said.

Response By Dr. Frank Tims

Dear Mr. Hicks:

One of the lingering myths about the Cold War is that of "no shots fired in the Cold War." This myth perpetuates the public perception of a Sergeant Bilko-Gomer Pyle world of popular TV during that period. Even the hard-partying doctors of "MASH" had incoming wounded. Anybody who thinks troops in the Cold War "didn't face combat" does not know about the Americans who served on the Korean DMZ, or advisors in the Greek communist insurgency of 1948-49, or who flew reconnaissance missions around and over the USSR, China, and Vietnam (when we weren't "officially there" in 1953-57), or the US advisors killed in a dozen small wars. Then there were the men of the USS Pueblo, and the USS Liberty, not to mention the USS Tautog (and others on patrol, or the USS Gudgeon that was depth charged by Soviets. And how about the US aircraft shot down by the Soviets. and their allies over Eastern Europe, or the casualties due to terrorist attacks (with East German training and weapons) in Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, the Philippines, and numerous other places? Air crews who lost their lives in combat with Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, and other hostile nations during the "peacetime" of the Cold War -- sometimes reported officially as weather-related accidents, training losses, and accidental, to preserve the cover of the missions.

Now, combat aside, there was the service of those who were part of the real deterrent of ICBMs, B-52s with nukes, and the air defense missile sites. Operational losses were very real for these folks, and yes we did have B-52s on full nuclear alert and in the air.

And then there was Cuba.
USAF Major Rudolph Anderson was killed by a Soviet missile crew in 1962 over Cuba, and yes, there were combat air patrols on a routine basis all over the world -- this was the reality of the Cold War.

The "peacetime" aspect of the Cold War had to do with the very real deterrent and preparedness of our forces. We didn't get incinerated in a nuclear exchange -- which is the whole point of deterrence. There as a Lt. Robert Gates, who was part of the ICBM force in the United States -- who later became head of the CIA and is now Secretary of Defense. He knew it was serious, and he knows we won.

Please help us overcome this myth by putting the facts before the American people. I recently made trips to Arlington Cemetery to place flowers on the graves of many forgotten Cold War heroes, including Lt. Col. John Nicholson, who was killed by a Soviet guard in East Germany in 1986, and General James A. Van Fleet, who led our military mission to Greece in 1948-50 and helped the Greeks defeat the Communist guerrillas, and later commanded the Eighth US.Army in the Korean War. Many, many more heroes of the Cold War are buried at Arlington. Check out the article, "The Unspoken War," in the St. Petersburg Times edition of May 31.
I will be pleased to provide any more details you need --
Frank M. Tims, Ph.D.
National Legislative Director
Cold War Veterans Association