Echoes of the Cold War

Stories of military aircraft and those around them during the Cold War and where they are today.

My father is a bald, middle aged salesman, who has sold telephones, toasters, and everything in between. Every morning he reads the Seattle Times while eating breakfast and when he gets home from work in the evening he enjoys reading paperback thrillers. Thirty-five years ago he was a United States Army Reserve Captain in the Quartermaster Corps.

Like most of his generation he never really talked about his time in the army. He neither hid his service nor did he boast about it, it was just something that he had done. His generation served as part of one of the largest military machines ever created. Through their actions and the actions of those they faced, the Cold War was the largest war that never happened.

One of the few momentos my father kept was a deck of Army issued playing cards. Each card is printed with an aircraft silhouette and some basic facts about it. Some of the aircraft, like the F-15, are well known and iconic. Some, like the O-2, are virtually unknown. Some, like the UH-1, served in Korea and Vietnam and continue today in both military and civilian roles. Others, like the A-6, remain only in museums.

Looking at the cards I wondered what these aircraft did and what it was like for those who served around them. This project not only tells those stories, but also tells the continuing story of where these people and aircraft are now.

UH-1-Sam.jpg

 Left: Same Burns. Center: King of Hearts, the Huey. Right: The 459th acting co-pilot, Capt. Jonathan Gentri, counts down before takeoff May 8, 2014. The 459th performed UH-N1 Huey small formation training sorties May 8 and 9 to improve interoperability. (U.S Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Ashley Wright/Released)

Why should I care?

The Cold War was the largest and longest war that never happened. The United States spent $26 trillion (2015 dollars) preparing for a great war with the Soviets and fighting proxy wars in Vietnam, Korea, and elsewhere. In its final years this conflict was not fought with the clash of force, but by moves and countermoves by the two most powerful militaries that this world has ever seen. The men and women serving in the military at the time had seen their parents and grand-parents return from the horrors of war yet they still joined. Their heroism was not in killing their enemy, but in preventing a war that, win or lose, would have ended the world as we know it.

Their heroism was not recognized then and now we do not remember what they did. Yesterday they were prepared to do their duty for their country, today they sell us appliances, build computers, and make our phones work. Yesterday these aircraft stood on runways, loaded with atomic weapons ready to take off at a moment’s notice or they flew supplies to teams training to fight for their country, today they sit in museums, they fly missions to put out forest fires, and a few still stand ready should the need arise.

By telling the stories of the service of these men and women and telling the continuing mission of these aircraft we can tell a story that shaped a generation. By remembering the horrors that happened and could have happened then, we can be more prepared to prevent the horrors of the future.

The Project

Phase one • The Past

The first phase of the project is to interview the veterans who served around the aircraft between 1947 and 1991 and to create photographic portraits of the veterans with the card of the aircraft they are connected to.

Distribution

  • All the interviews will be published on the project’s Youtube and Vimeo channels as well as posted on the project website and social media pages.

  • Unedited transcripts of the interviews will be published on the project’s website.

  • The portraits of the veterans will be published on the project’s social media pages and on the project’s website.

Phase two • The Present

The second phase of the project is to find where the retired aircraft are now. The majority of them are in museums while some of the helicopters are in use by other organizations (law enforcement etc.). This part will also involve interviews with the people who are around the aircraft now.

Distribution

  • All the interviews will be published on the project’s Youtube and Vimeo channels as well as posted on the project website and social media pages.

  • Unedited transcripts of the interviews will be published on the project’s website.

  • The portraits of the veterans will be published on the project’s social media pages and on the project’s website updated with composites of the aircraft where they are now over the cards. The composites of the airplanes will include portraits of the people around them now.

Phase three • The Future

The third phase is to look at the aircraft that are still in service and the aircraft that have replaced the ones that have been retired. As well as photographing the active duty aircraft, this part will involve interviewing military personnel to describe the differences between serving around the aircraft now vs then.

Distribution

  • All the interviews will be published on the project’s Youtube and Vimeo channels as well as posted on the project’s website and social media pages.

  • Unedited transcripts of the interviews will be published on the project’s website.

  • The portraits of the veterans will be published on the project’s social media pages and on the project’s website updated with composites of either the aircraft where they are still in service or of the aircraft that replaced them in addition to the previous images of where the aircraft are on display. Portraits of the servicemen and women who currently work with them will be included in the airplane composites.