Saturday, October 31, 2009


By JOHN M. BRIDGES, Mattoon

I was a US Army soldier from 1977 to 1981. I did not serve during a declared war, but nevertheless, I did serve with heroes.

I enlisted to preserve the security of the United States and the NATO alliance. We served during a trifle and all but forgotten spot in American history known as the “Cold War.” I served on a Pershing 1A missile base in the then-Federal Republic of Germany.

We carried live ammunition 24/7 and it was our responsibility to safeguard 18 nuclear missiles known then as the “nuclear deterrent” to a Soviet invasion of Western Europe.

For those who have never been told about this poignant time in history, the threat was very, very real.

From the cessations of action in Vietnam and until the Berlin wall came down, at least 62 Americans were Killed in Action, hundreds were Wounded in Action, 18 are still Missing in Action, and an estimated 5,000 died in American military operations, exercises, missions, and support activities.

The Cold War in Europe was a real war, fought with real weapons, with real ammunition. An actual military theater of operations existed.

Five million US military members teamed up with NATO allied nations military forces to prevent the USSR-Warsaw Pact military forces from invading Western Europe.

It’s kind of ironic that I and my brothers in arms that served then can’t become a real member of the VFW. We “didn’t count as war veterans.” The fact is that many thousands of American War Veterans never served a second of combat, nor did they ever leave American soil.

We still died in uniform, were routinely shot at and did in fact kill insurgents that jeopardized the security of Europe. Go tell thier loved ones they served and died for nothing.

Any veteran has my utmost respect. I wholeheartedly revere the respect and love finally shown to our returning heroes.

I as well as a lot of my fellow returning soldiers were spit on in airports, preyed upon by everyone from Hare Krishna’s and panhandlers to unscrupulous cab drivers. There were no USO volunteers, no bands playing, and never a thank you from anyone; in fact, there was no eye contact likened to what the public now shows to the homeless. We still served our country with pride.