Thursday, June 21, 2012

Working on the Locks

For those of you who have known me for a while, or the two or three who have been reading this blog from the start, you know that I did a project for my MA in History at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle back in 2009.  The site is more commonly known as "the Ballard Locks" for the Seattle neighborhood in which it is located.  The Army Corps of Engineers site along with the co-located Carl English Botanical Gardens is typically listed as one of the top three visitor attractions in Seattle.  The volunteer group we started to accomplish that archive project is still going strong.  Since I've moved back to western Washington, I've been able to visit at the locks and help out the organization the best way I can (being that I live a two-hour journey by car and ferry away) by helping out with their blog.

The Abner Coburn along with the tug Wanderer move east 
through the Ballard Locks, circa 1916.

In case you had not checked in for a while, I thought I would put the "Friends of the Ballard Locks" back on your radar.  One of their members, Kyle Stetler, let us know in his article for the FOBL blog that June 25th is the 102nd anniversary of the passage of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1910, which appropriated the funds to begin construction of the locks.  A good investment, I'd say.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Remembering the Cold War

For me, one of the frustrating things about getting older is that what seems like ancient history to young people just happened yesterday in my mind.  But after finding a couple of videos on YouTube that have to do with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment during the Cold War, I counted up the years.  It’s been almost 23 years since the fall of the “Iron Curtain,” and going on 24 since I left the "Fulda Gap."  It did seem like yesterday, at least until I took a look at these old clips.

I have not written much about my own military service in this blog.  I share a portion of it here, just to contribute part of my own "oral history."  I served in the 11th ACR, the Blackhorse Regiment, as an aviation officer and scout helicopter pilot from 1985 to 1988.  During those Cold War years, the mission of the 11th Armored Cavalry was to patrol approximately 230 miles of the East German border.  We linked up with the 2nd Armored Cavalry to our south, and the British Army of the Rhine on the north.  The Regiment’s headquarters was based in the town of Fulda, about twenty miles from the border.

Just before I came to the unit, the Regiment had made a promotional video that everyone called “The Blackhorse Movie.”  Self-serving and corny, but man, as a new lieutenant in the Blackhorse, I thought it was cool.  I had a copy of my own until the VHS tape finally disintegrated.   But isn’t YouTube wonderful?  Someone posted a copy.  It’s just under fifteen minutes long, but I think you’ll enjoy it.  It’s got a good history lesson on the beginning of the Cold War in Germany:
Fast forward two years to a day or so before Thanksgiving in 1987.  The whole community was abuzz, because the Today Show was going to broadcast live from the “frontiers of freedom” in Fulda, Germany.  That same week the morning show had been filmed at an Air Force base in England and on the deck of an aircraft carrier at sea.  The largest building available was our aircraft hangar on Sickles Army Airfield, so that’s where they would broadcast from.  For days prior to the broadcast our operations were curtailed.  No training flights, only the required daily border surveillance missions.  The hangar had to be cleared out and all of the aircraft were lined up on the runway.  I assumed that any conflict with the Soviets would be put on hold until Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel had left town.

I had just recently been made the squadron’s S-2 (staff intelligence officer).  I was given a mission to lead a flight of helicopters carrying a camera crew up to a border outpost (O.P. Tennessee).  The flight was delayed due to forecasted clouds over a pass we had to fly through to get to the border.  When our squadron commander took command a few months earlier, he gave a speech where he promised that safety was paramount and there would be no more launching of “weather birds” to prove the Air Force weather forecasters wrong.  Well, when he saw me on the flight line he sternly reminded me that these were important people with a schedule to keep.  He strongly suggested that I get in my little helicopter and go see for myself whether or not the pass was open.  So much for no weather birds.  We eventually got the camera crew up to the border.  The Russians were kind enough to send up a couple of their aircraft to see why we showed up with so many aircraft ourselves.  So the NBC folks shot a great segment and for a brief moment you could catch a glimpse of the tail of my aircraft on television.

Here’s a segment of that episode of the Today Show I found on YouTube:
I didn’t go to the hangar to watch the filming.  Instead I stayed in my office and watched it on television.  I was told that as soon as it was over, Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumbel walked off stage without looking back.  But Willard Scott (the jovial weatherman before Al Roker) stayed and signed autographs for every soldier and family member who wanted one.

Photo from article "Soviet Tanks As Far As The Eye Can See" 
We saw the Wall come down on television but we never really celebrated the end of the Cold War here in the United States.  It just sort of ended one day without notice and Bob’s your uncle, it wasn’t there anymore.  But we won it, sure enough.  And we did our job so well we never had to experience the horrors of the war we imagined with the Warsaw Pact.  It brought a smile to my face when I read an article at and saw the pictures of all those Russian tanks we were so afraid of.  They’re for sale… and currently gathering rust in the Ukraine.  

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