Cold Warriors: American Heroes Emerge Decades After Their Acts

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.

Salute to heroes: Hexagon Project workers in Danbury, Connecticut. 

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.

Fred Marra listens as Bob Zarba describes the Hexagon KH-9 satellite

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. . .

Rebranding America As United States of Awesome Possibilities

The Corporation for Travel Promotion recently enlisted the aid of an advertising agency to brand and market us, the US, the United States. Guess what their tagline is? Try: United States of Awesome Possibilities. Catchy, no?

Their neat little, patriotic symbol below was designed to help spread American cheer abroad. I particularly like the purple dots. They remind me of the color-blind detection test I took before going to Water Survival School in Pensacola. Check it:

Discover America at

They have a website that includes travel tips, entry requirements, and regional information.

What precisely are their goals and intentions?

By soft-pedaling patriotism, the newly-formed US national tourism board tasked with getting more tourists — and their money — onto US soil is reinventing the nation as a hip new land of diversity and possibilities.

“We’re rebranding America for the first time,” said Jim Evans, chief executive of the Corporation for Travel Promotion, ahead of the World Travel Market that opened Monday in London.

“Over the last 10 or 12 years, people have seen America as unwelcoming as we’ve focused on security … and our competition (from other countries) is more fierce than it’s ever been before.”

Ah, the old soft-pedaling patriotism angle. A new land and a rebranding. What was wrong with the old land? The old brand? Unwelcoming? Sure, to terrorists. Is that not the point? What was the Corporation for Travel Promotion, known also by its new name of Brand USA, thinking?

President Barack Obama’s Welcome on

Let’s go over to the Discover America website and see what else we can learn about the United States of Awesome Possibilities.

Hmmm, they offer foreigners some tips about us. Let’s scope out some of the more interesting ones:

-Health care is superior in the US but it can be very expensive because there is no universal health care.

-U.S. culture is as diverse as the geography, and what’s considered good manners often changes from region to region. Americans are generally an easygoing people – famously open and welcoming – but observing a few customs will guarantee a successful trip.

-Dress is generally casual; business dress is sometimes required in high-end restaurants and private clubs, but less frequently than even a few years ago. Nevertheless, if you are attending a special event, it’s probably best to risk being overdressed, rather than too casual.

-Every culture has some quirky do’s and don’ts. Here are a few of America’s: Observe queues and don’t cut in line. Be aware that Americans are fanatics about showering and hygiene.

-Shaking hands is the usual form of greeting, but many Americans are quite casual and demonstrative: it’s not altogether unusual to receive a hug and sometimes even a friendly kiss on the cheek from someone you’ve only just met.

-Some States observe holidays that are not recognized by the federal government. For example, New Jersey celebrates Lincoln’s Birthday, Good Friday and Election Day; Virginia celebrates Lee-Jackson Day, honoring Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jonathan (“Stonewall”) Jackson.

-Driving under the influence of alcohol or non-prescription drugs is a serious offense in the U.S. and can result in inconvenience, embarrassment and expense (and criminal charges?)

Somehow I have become very protective of the United States. Are these tips not at least mildly odd to you? Why mention universal health-care? Hygiene? There are plenty of other common-sense suggestions at the site. But these were the more glaring examples.

Discover America at

Reading some the comments at Yahoo indicates that I am not alone in my chagrin. The below quote puzzles me:

“What is so compelling about the United States is that no one thing can explain who we are as a nation,” CTP’s Chris Perkins said in a statement.

I have traveled a lot, through five continents, in well over 2 dozen countries. And I have never looked at our country as a particularly complex one to distill down to a basic idea. Freedom and opportunity come to mind. Or perhaps am I naive and not looking at all of the awesome possibilities? Which advertising giant came up with this winning strategy?

Even our former Presidents were pressed into the act:


Let us extend an invitation to visit the United States of America.

Discover America is not only the name of our country’s travel and tourism Web site, it is also a call to explore the diverse destinations found throughout the USA. Our 50 states, the District of Columbia and five territories are filled with landmarks that have become icons of the nation itself.

Countless experiences await you, from scenic coastlines and mountain ranges to vast prairies, deserts and canyons. Our exciting big cities are matched by the charms of our smaller communities. All showcase the heritage and culture of a great nation. But perhaps our greatest attraction is the spirit of the American people.

The gift of travel has given us a greater understanding for different cultures and people around the world. Along the way, we have built great friendships. It is our hope that you, too, will come to know America through your travels here.

We hope this virtual look gives a good overview of what you will discover in America. Please come and see us soon.


Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, William J. Clinton, George W. Bush