Randall R. ‘Randy' Wing
Grand Island Staff sergeant, U.S. Air Force
Served as radio traffic analyst with the U.S. Air Force Security Service from 1969 to '73, stationed in Okinawa and southern Italy at very small bases that have since closed.
Memory: “As with all military personnel at that time, the Cold War was a very real part of life. We wore Air Force uniforms but worked for the National Security Agency. The men I served with were mostly unrecognized because their work was classified and shrouded in secrecy.
“The Security Service bases were listening stations all around the world, most often in extremely remote locations, that monitored Chinese and Soviet bloc activity. Rather than being trained and drilled on self-defense, we were trained and drilled on how fast we could destroy our equipment if we were ever attacked.
“The Security Service fought the Cold War with typewriters, teletype, radios, headphones, big antennas and miles of paper tape. After the Munich Olympic massacre in 1972, the escaping terrorists were thought to be heading for southern Italy and we were issued weapons and instructed to protect the antenna. The joke of the day was ‘take one for the antenna.'
“Letters from home were always welcome. I corresponded daily with my future wife and sometimes several letters arrived on the same day or no letters at all. Being overseas my entire tour made trips home few and far between. Phone calls were impossible. I was able to go home on leave to get married with the expectation that my wife would join me in Okinawa. While home one of my buddies wrote to say they announced that the base would be closing and personnel would be reassigned and no dependents would be able to join them. We were not able to be together in Okinawa so we were apart for nine months before reassignment.
“Leaving Okinawa in May 1971, I flew via military charter to Travis AFB and was bused to San Francisco to catch my plane to Denver, where my wife, parents and sisters were meeting me. The San Francisco airport was under siege at the time with protesters making it difficult for any servicemen. It didn't matter to them if you were coming from Vietnam or not. The fact that you were U.S. military was enough to ensure that you were insulted, cursed and ridiculed. Thankfully the USO provided a safe haven to wait for your flight.
“I was reassigned to the base in Italy and my wife was able to join me. Life was quite a challenge for my wife as she spent a great deal of time alone in a foreign country with few friends and no family. Because the small bases had a ‘small town' feel, many special friendships were made and it was difficult to say goodbye when our tour was over.”
Order ‘At War, At Home'
The World-Herald's “At War, At Home: The Cold War” is a special look back at the Nebraskans and Iowans whose courage and commitment helped prevent nuclear war and lift the Iron Curtain.
The 330-page book is packed with:
» Gripping stories and compelling photographs from The World-Herald archives.
» Service memories submitted by Nebraskans and western Iowans.
» Commemorative coverage of the Cold War Victory Salute held in July in downtown Omaha.
The book, which costs $29.95, can be ordered online at www.OWHstore.com or by phone at 402-444-1014 for delivery in November.