Honoring America’s’s Veterans is recognizing our Cold War veterans this year with the 2017 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade theme, “Silent Sacrifice: Honoring our Cold War Veterans.”
Many of our younger generation might not be really clear on just what the Cold War was, as it certainly is different from other conflicts in which the United States was involved.
Simply put, the Cold War was a period of “non-hostile belligerency” primarily between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was a called both a “war of words” and a “war of ideas.” There was tremendous competition involved, including the space race and arms race, and there was a nuclear buildup between the U.S. and its allies in the West and the Communist world, dominated by the USSR and China in the East.
You could say the Cold War was so named because of the “icy relationship” between the USSR and U.S. starting at the end of World War II. Because the two great powers never directly fought each other, it was called a “cold war,” meaning there was no physical fighting. (Interestingly, the term “cold war” first appeared in a 1945 essay by the English writer George Orwell called “You and the Atomic Bomb.”) But the period – which lasted some 45 years, from 1945 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – was marked by economic competition, a nuclear arms race, military tension, espionage and proxy wars.
It was a frightening time, with an ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, as both sides built and tested destructive atomic bombs. To our military, it meant long tours of duty on submarines, efforts to keep ahead of the Russians in the nuclear arms race, and tracking of ship and submarine movements around the globe to obtain peace through deterrence. To American civilians, it meant bomb shelters in backyards, attack drills in schools and other public places, and an epidemic of popular films that horrified moviegoers with depictions of nuclear devastation and mutant creatures. The Cold War was a constant presence in Americans’ everyday lives.
The Cold War extended to space, with the Soviets launching the world’s first artificial satellite (known as “Sputnik”) in 1957, and the U.S. answering back with its own satellite, Explorer I, in 1958. President Dwight Eisenhower signed a public order creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that same year, but it was the Soviets who put the first man into space in April 1961. Alan Shepard become the first American man in space a month later, and President John F. Kennedy made the bold public claim that the U.S. would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. His prediction came true on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission became the first man to set foot on the moon, effectively winning the space race for Americans.
The most visible symbol of the decades-long Cold War was the Berlin Wall in Germany. During the early years of the Cold War, West Berlin was a geographical loophole through which thousands of East Germans fled to the democratic West. In response, the Communist East German authorities built a wall that totally encircles West Berlin. It was thrown up overnight, on August 13, 1961. The wall stood in place until 1989, just over two years after President Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev in a speech in Berlin, famously saying: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
Although there is no specific breakdown for Cold War veterans, there were 181,361 peacetime veterans, according to the latest figures. One of them was Bernard O’Keefe, the Cold War Veteran Grand Marshal for the 2017 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade. His nearly 27 years in the U.S. Air Force included four overseas tours, including two in Germany, and he was on the team that put the Ground Launched Missile program into action. “In my first tour in Germany I went through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin,” the retired Command Chief Master Sergeant recalls. “The Berlin Wall was something that brought the whole idea of the Cold War into focus. The Soviet threat was real.”
We hope you will join us for the 21st annual Phoenix Veterans Day Parade on November 11, 2017, to honor our veterans from the Cold War and other conflicts. For more information, visit www.phoenixveteransdayparade.org.