Nowadays, the primary concern of Michael Richardson, operational test director at the U. S. Transportation Security Administration, is air-travel security. But he is also devoting considerable effort to penning memories from another era, the Cold War, when the security of our nation was at stake.
Richardson, as a freshly minted West Point product, was assigned to serve as a "third lieutenant" in the 14th Armored Cavalry Regiment, patrolling the "One Kilometer Zone" on the border with Communist East Germany.
With tens-of-thousands of other American military men and women, he had become an instrument of the policy of "containment," formulated by George Kennan.
Richardson explained that according to Kennan's doctrine, the primary response to Soviet aggression was to allow the Soviet's to initiate an intrusion, political, economic or military and then meet it with sufficient countermeasures to stop, but not defeat the Soviets. Kennan used the analogy of a wind-up-toy, which when it meets an immovable object, runs down and ultimately stops moving..
"This was the strategy we served through the Cold War," Richardson said.
He said that "we the 'X Men' of the Cold War" stopped, but never defeated the Soviet Union. The West stopped armed aggression in Korea, the Brits the Communist-led insurgency in Malaysia, political incursions into Greece and Turkey. When anti-Communist revolts erupted in East Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and Moscow suppressed it by force, the West condemned the act, but didn't intervene. Not, until arming the Mujahideen in Afghanistan was the U. S. able to inflict defeat on the Soviet Army.
"At every intrusion, it was the soldier in olive drab who stood between the Soviets and their objectives," Richardson said. "It was an all-American military composed of draftees, volunteers, veterans and a few professionals."
Richardson was assigned to the squadron in Bad Hersfeld, Germany that was responsible for patrolling a sector of the East German border. He was briefed the evening before the patrol and strongly cautioned "to load my pistol, but not to give any ammunition to soldiers." The reason was, some undisciplined soldiers occasionally fired into East Germany, and no one wanted a Serious Incident Report.
The recollections of Richardson about his military service during the Cold War include many sobering but also amusing episodes. Most members of his squadron were draftees.
"At some of the stations along our patrol's route there were tall towers to climb. I was getting tired of climbing towers and asked for volunteers. Like real soldiers there were no volunteers and I continued to climb alone," he wrote.
But there were also soldiers like 1st Sergeant Charles Snow, Richardson writes in the draft of his memoir. "He believed in soldiers, having started his career as a juvenile delinquent and finding purpose in uniform When his company had no immediate mission, he developed one. Based on the concept of "Adventure Training" he planned a trip across Germany."
Richardson describes how Snow borrowed horses from a German equestrian club and put a third of his troops in the saddle. "Entering the "One Kilometer Zone," they confidently rode to the border with East Germany. When they could see the border fencing they paused. But there were sections without any fencing, just stone monuments sticking out of the ground. The mounted soldiers rode round and around each monument, discussing what it means. Each time invading and retreating from East GermanyThe stone monuments were border markers, dating from 1871, before Germany was unifiedThe victors of WWII established the old line as the border between East and West Germany."
Quoting a senior officer, Richardson wrote: "We, as an army, had a drug problem, we had a desertion problem, and we had a public relations problem There were 22 Soviet armored divisions opposing our five divisions. Then the American officer went into details on how we were going to defeat them. When asked why he is so sure, he responded: 'I think, they are more screwed up than we are."
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.