July Memories – From Childhood To Old Age

By Joseph Carvalko | 29 June 2020
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War Heroes, Photo by Joe Carvalko, Deadly Fog, 2004.

July, the seventh month of the Gregorian calendar echoes in a corner of my mind unlike any other month. I find it a bit curious that a prime numbered month no less has collected so much psychological bric-a-brac: from the many jubilant July 4th celebrations, which in my home town kicked off the Barnum Festival, in honor of P.T., born the 5th of July 1810, to memories of the Cold War.

Barnum had been a mayor of my home town following his career as a hoaxer, side-show barker and circus ringmaster. A consummate entertainer. Today, another showman, politician, and businessman known to us all as Donald J. Trump walks among us, but unlike dear Barnum, who may have featured shrunken heads in his side-show, Trump’s escapades have put the heads of American troops on Vladimir Putin’s chopping block.

Maybe Trump is simply an unwitting fool or maybe his derelictions have a more sinister edge. It’s hard to tell from the headlines: Russian bounties to Taliban-linked militants resulted in deaths of US troops, according to intelligence assessments, June 28, 2020, Washington Post. Trump has claimed no knowledge of the charges. I don’t believe him. Later reporting puts the bounty at $100,000 per American head.

On June 29, 2020, Jonathan Marcus, diplomatic correspondent for BBC News, reported that “Russia is also waging a ‘grey’ or undeclared war against the West. This has many elements: cyber-attacks; disinformation campaigns; electoral interference; the funding of extremists in Western countries . . . Russia under President Vladimir Putin has smarted from every perceived indignity suffered since the fall of the Soviet Union.”

Around the world, no one needs headlines or intelligence reports to know that China, North Korea and Russia support US enemies. It’s been this way since the end of WWII, a war my father, uncles and cousins fought their way through. There’s always been a few that don’t get it, but never a US president–until now. Where has President Trump been? On another planet? I’ve know this since I was a kid.

Following WWII, which I barely remember as a youngster, the geopolitical landscape convulsed in revolutions and realignments, some brought about through new boarders, others as a consequence of shedding colonial powers, and yet others set along politically ideological lines. The US and the Soviet Union supported opposing sides in every instance, between the 1947 Truman Doctrine to the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union and collapse of its Iron Curtain, behind which communists enslaved millions in the course of 75 odd-years (1917-1991). Called the Cold War, no large-scale fighting directly occurred between the two superpowers, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. Nonetheless war raged on throughout the world, where tens of thousands of American troops were killed in the course of two generations.

In July 1952 the Korean war, the hot side of the Cold War was raging. Like other kids about to enter 6th grade, I only knew about its horrors obliquely. In my case by delivering newspapers. Each day I read the headlines, and with the few pennies I earned bought cartoonish trading cards packed in bubble gum wrappers under the Red Menace brand. I was especially attracted to the cards that showed dogfights between Russian MiG-17s and US F-86 Sabre Jets.

During that same July, I’d visited Arlington National Cemetery—with my grandmother—where together we walked among the graves, most which melded into landscapes dotted with crosses and six-pointed stars. A few were fresh, dirt covered plots, no grass. I learned later that they were Americans, who’d been killed in action, in Korea.

The Korea War (1950-1953) was followed by the Vietnam War (1964-1975), both hot wars, which combined resulted in nearly 100,000 American deaths. Both wars supported by Putin’s ex-employer, the old Soviet Union. But, less publicized were the enormous numbers of deaths of service men and women, who served before, during and after the hot wars. For Trump who famously dodged the Vietnam draft, he would likely have no reason to inquire into this sad fact.

By now dear reader, it’s clear that July has been a month that especially tugs at my Cold War fixation. A few years ago, in July, I spoke before a group of Korean War veterans on the 62nd anniversary of the war’s Armistice. I recounted that they served along side the 92,134 GIs who were wounded, the 4,759 who went missing in action, the 36,516 GIs who died. Of the 3,000 in captivity, 43% died of starvation, and at least 1,000 POWs were left behind. Years later I took the US government to task for this later dishonor. The trial started July 19, 1983, Federal District Court in Hartford, and ended in a court ordered reclassification from MIA to POW of one among many GIs left behind by our government after the cessation of hostilities, never to be heard from again. While I was looking for POWs in the mid-80s, Trump went to Russia at the invitation of the Soviet Ambassador, all-expenses-paid. I doubt they talked about the sacrifices of the men and women who were still being killed in the Cold War.

Throughout the Cold War, US bombers and reconnaissance planes flew day and night to insure a barrier between the free world and the Iron Curtain. As to the US Air Force, aircraft were launched around the clock, year after year, decade after decade, 24/7 from the more than 75 US Strategic Air Command bases, which flew to foreign bases located in countries, such as in Turkey and Iceland, where they’d remain armed, each having a prescribed target somewhere in the Soviet Union. Some aircraft were tasked to surveille the Iron Curtain, photographing and collecting electronic data.

Missions were not without significant risk. Between 1947 and 1990, nearly 300 US military aircraft were shot down, where crews were either killed or captured by the People’s Republic of China or the Soviet Union. Separate and apart, 200 airmen were shot down while air patrolling the Soviet Union.

In the 50s and 60s, I’d worked as a B-47 gunnery mechanic in the 307th Bomb Wing, Strategic Air Command. Fortunately, unlike those serving in the military today, I served under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, and therefore never had to feel that my back wasn’t being covered or some enemy was putting a bounty on my head, at least not without a peep from the commander-in-chief. As was the case with scores of other air wings throughout the world, our mission was to fly the skies in and around the Iron Curtain to insure that the Soviets remained in check.

Although as mentioned, not entirely unchallenged, every mission had its unique perils caused by a mix of tight, around the clock schedules, nuclear bombs, armed conventional weapons, and aircraft unreliability, especially in an age before semiconductors and computers. In recounting the losses within the wing I served, one might legitimately multiply these by the 75 bases, where similar flights were being launched nonstop.

In April 1956 (I joined the Air Force in ’59), one of our B-47s went down killing all aboard, another accident killed the entire crew, followed by fifty of our airmen, who were lost off the coast of Spain, November 1956. This was followed by an F-80 fighter jet crashing into the flight line’s fuel pits, the pilot and two ground crew members were killed, four others were injured. In February 1958, a B-47 jettisoned fuel tanks, one which hit a hanger and the other striking another B-47, killing the crew chief and a repairman. On 8 October 1959, a B-47, crashed on take-off killing the crew. June 1961, a bomber crashed south of the runway, where the entire crew lost their lives. On 3 February 1963, a bomber crashed on take-off, the copilot, ejected, but was killed. Then on 7 March 1963, a B-47 caught fire during take-off, killing the commander.

On 27 July 1964, after nearly 5 years, I was mustering out of the Air Force. I was driving to the base, when I saw the plume of a B-47 that catastrophically crashed on take-off. I stopped. I heard the sirens. I wept.

I can’t help but ponder that my family’s war experience drew me to military service, and my service in turn drew my son and now my granddaughter, who currently serves. We would have served regardless who was president. Mr. Trump, your family has never served in the military. Perhaps this accounts for your apparent lack of interest in acting upon intelligence that threatens someone’s child who’s serving in the armed forces, today. How sad.

Joseph Carvalko is an American technologist, academic, patent lawyer, and writer. As an inventor and engineer, he has been awarded 18 patents in various fields. He has authored academic books, articles, and fiction throughout his career. Currently he is an Adjunct Professor of Law at Quinnipiac University, School of Law, teaching Law, Science and Technology; Chairman, Technology and Ethics Working Research Group, Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, Yale University; member, IEEE, Society on Social Implications of Technology; summer faculty member, Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics, Yale University.

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