At my current billet, I work around a slew of Cold Warriors, folks who stood watch back when we bristled toe-to-toe with the Russian bear. Both civilian and military.
I have been “adopted” by many of them. They relate to me their careers, successes and failures. Many of them were quite senior when they retired, as in Captains, Commanders or Master Chiefs.
A common theme is that many worked a small piece of something requiring a lot of moving parts. Nearly all of these men and women are heroes in my eyes. Not that most of them would accept me calling them that. The amount of shrugging and “just-doin’-my-job” that I hear from them is astounding. “That is what we did back then.”
No less astounding is the men and women who worked on Big Bird. Have a read:
It was dubbed “Big Bird” and it was considered the most successful space spy satellite program of the Cold War era. From 1971 to 1986 a total of 20 satellites were launched, each containing 60 miles of film and sophisticated cameras that orbited the earth snapping vast, panoramic photographs of the Soviet Union, China and other potential foes.
The film was shot back through the earth’s atmosphere in buckets that parachuted over the Pacific Ocean, where C-130 Air Force planes snagged them with grappling hooks.
The scale, ambition and sheer ingenuity of Hexagon KH-9 was breathtaking. The fact that 19 out of 20 launches were successful (the final mission blew up because the booster rockets failed) is astonishing.
Heroes. Nothing else describes them. This last September the program was declassified:
“My name is Al Gayhart and I built spy satellites for a living,” announced the 64-year-old retired engineer to the stunned bartender in his local tavern as soon as he learned of the declassification. He proudly repeats the line any chance he gets.
He describes the white-hot excitement as teams pored over hand-drawings and worked on endless technical problems, using “slide-rules and advanced degrees” (there were no computers), knowing they were part of such a complicated space project. The intensity would increase as launch deadlines loomed and on the days when “the customer” — the CIA and later the Air Force — came for briefings. On at least one occasion, former President George H.W. Bush, who was then CIA director, flew into Danbury for a tour of the plant.
Though other companies were part of the project — Eastman Kodak made the film and Lockheed Corp. built the satellite — the cameras and optics systems were all made at Perkin-Elmer, then the biggest employer in Danbury.
Please go read the rest. Men and women working projects like these are the unheralded heroes of the Cold War. Yes, they were civilians, but no less valuable to our country’s and the West’s survival. . .
Merry Christmas Shipmates! Think about a topic that captures the holiday cheer. Have you got something in mind? Good, me too. How’s this: flying in military planes and needing to go to the bathroom. . .
Crucis over at Crucis’ Court sent me this comi-tragedy on an incident that occurred when he was in the Air Force:
I was in the Air Force in the late 60s and early 70s. My last base was at Richards-Gebaur AFB (now closed) and the base housed a reserve MAC wing.
At that time they flew Korean War vintage C-119s and C-124s. They later transitioned to C-130s but that hadn’t happened at the time of this story.
Anyway, it was in December. I don’t remember which year but I do remember it was COLD! My wife had gone back to Illinois for Christmas and New Years. I would join her later but I had on-base duty and couldn’t leave until Christmas Eve.
My plan was to hitch a ride on one of the reserve transports to Scott AFB, IL where my in-laws would pick me up. My wife and I would drive back to R-G AFB after New Years.