Service Memory: The Cold War

John Henry Bender

Ralston A2c, U.S. Air Force
Served from November 1959 to November 1963.
Memory: “Communications center specialist was my job. Got orders out of school for deployment to 922nd Aircraft Control and Early Warning Squadron … to a site isolated on the east coast of Labrador (Cartwright) for 15 long and very cold and windy months. … No road there, only way in or out was by air. We got on the chopper and were equipped immediately with a barf bag and strapped in with rails to hold onto during the flight. I used the bag all the way there. It was like riding a roller coaster.

“There was no going outside during the very cold months. We have blizzards in Nebraska, but the ones up there lasted weeks, a few days calm, and then we got another one. This went on all winter.

“The communications center had a base switchboard and teletype like Western Union. Messages were sent out encrypted and received the same way. We were sending out messages 24 hours a day, so people trying to break our codes would not know what was good and was not good. We as operators didn’t know our own codes, all we did was send everything out.

“The first couple of weeks I was scared to death, as we had unknown planes that we picked up on radar. They scrambled fighters and escorted them back over the North Pole and to their country. We had ships off the site, and when we radioed them, they said they were fishing vessels. But they had big guns on the front of them. This also had me alarmed, as we were sitting on a hill with no defenses. A lot of mind games at the beginning and a lot of tension for those involved. After a while, you got used to it and hoped no one on either side pushed the wrong button.

“I wrote home every day and received a lot of mail from everyone. If you have a friend or loved one overseas or in the military, always remember to drop them a line. You will cheer them up a lot. I would always carry my special letters in my pocket and close to my heart. The longest we went without mail was three weeks. We read our old mail then.

“I (later) came to Offutt AFB. New friends that I met have lasted a lifetime. I’m very happy here and very proud that I got to serve in the armed forces.”

About Dan Sullivan

Editor of World-Herald books, including "Road to the Big Time," "Husker Full House" and "The Oracle & Omaha."
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