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I Remember


I remember, as a young boy, attending various north country elementary schools; Stanfordville, Duanesburg, Northville, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, where we were taught one universal lesson. We ran drills. The announcement came from the principal, over the loudspeaker:

      “When the alarm siren sounds, immediately hide under your desk, or seek refuge in the nearest stairwell.”  

    Looking back, I’m not sure what hiding under our desks in a grade school classroom would have done for us. I guess it didn’t much matter.  We were just young school children. We did not fully understand why or even what we were hiding from. Just that it was bad. Something teachers and grown-ups called “The Bomb”.

      I remember later watching movies on big reels in social studies classes in school. I can still hear that rhythmic rapid click movie projector’s sound. They were movies about mushroom clouds, fallout, the Soviet Union, something called “radiation”, and nuclear bombs.

     I was too young to remember the Cuban Missile Crisis or President John F. Kennedy’s famous; “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech. Those events occurred the year before I was born.

     I do remember the 1960’s era TV shows and movies about post nuclear war monsters. Godzilla, Rodan, the giant ants of the cult film classic; “Them”.   

        I remember watching Walter Cronkite on our four-channel black and white Zenith TV news through the ‘70’s.  Dad would come home after work, turn on the TV and take a nap on our living room couch while Mom made dinner. We never though Dad was watching the TV, but death to the child who dared to try changing the channel.

    I remember Walter Cronkite talked about Vietnam, anti-war protestors, men in space, The Soviet Union, “The Cold War”. There was lots of talk about complex geo- political matters like NATO, The Warsaw Pact, intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear fallout, and some thing called “deterrence”.

     During my senior year at Saranac Lake High School, I applied and was accepted into Cornell University on a four-year full ride Army ROTC scholarship.  I had no idea of what that all meant at the time, just that my parents and teachers all seemed very impressed and thought it as quite the big deal.

     The Army AROTC scholarship terms were simple; four years of college tuition in exchange for four years of military service. Tuition at Cornell was expensive. I would not have gone there without that scholarship. In addition, they paid for my books and gave me a one hundred dollar a month “stipend”. All my parents had to pay for was my meal ticket and rent.

     I was initially a freshman natural resources major in Cornell’s school of Agriculture & Life Sciences. That went south in a hurry though, once I realized that meant competing against brilliant cutthroat young pre-med students in hard core sciences like biology, computer science, and chemistry.

     I remember I had to get my 1980’s length hair cut. That was quite traumatic.

I was exempt from freshman gym classes, instead reporting for cadet physical training before class on weekday mornings.  I wore my dress green cadet unform once a week on campus for military science classes at Cornell’s Barton Hall. That’s where I was first introduced to Soviet military history, doctrine and tactics, and participated in my first ROTC field training exercise at what was then still Camp Drum.

We dined on canned army surplus Vietnam era c-rations. I was introduced to a key piece of equipment; the P-38. Not the WWII Era fighter plane, but the US Army can opener. One of my NCO’s gave me one to hang around my neck with my dog tags. An essential piece of military equipment. I still have mine.

     I left school midway through my freshman year second semester. I was flunking out fast in that competitive world and needed a parachute. Thankfully, the Army ROTC program issued me one.

     They held my scholarship while I went home and caught my breath. I caught on with a DEC trail crew and found myself and my path forward working in the woods, manning an axe and a bowsaw, clearing blowdown and learning to hand hew cedar log mountain swamp crossing stringer bridges.

     I returned to Cornell once again the following fall, 1982. I was in the division of unclassified students, where Cornell and the ROTC program allowed me to take a semester and explore academia to find where my interests and talents gave me the best chance for success.

     I took French language classes, which I had a strong background in from high school. I also took a history course, a philosophy course, an English literature seminar, as well as a course entitled “Intro to Government”. I’d found my niche. I did well.

     I changed my major. My goals became clear. I transferred into Cornell’s endowed “College of Arts & Sciences”. I would major in government, with a minor in Soviet Studies. My goal was to become a United States Army Intelligence Officer.  

     I remember studying the history of the Russian Empire, revolution, two world wars, Karl Marx, “The Communist Manifesto”, Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev, terms like “Mutually Assured Destruction”, “deterrence”, and the rise of the Soviet Union.

    I took Russian and German language classes, in addition to French. Learned to read and write in Cyrillic. I immersed myself in Russian classics; Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” & “Crime and Punishment”, Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, the unabridged version. I learned to play chess.

     I remember it was while I was at Cornell, sometime during my junior or senior year, that I wrote the following poem:


A Lady’s Dark Veil

Black Funeral Shroud

Her Son Was Impaled

Why Was it Allowed?

General N. Winter

Flashed Decayed Teeth

Ballistic Glitter

Satanic Bequeath

Playing the Trump Card

No One’s Alive

Life is A Graveyard

Dead Men Survive  

(Author’s Note: I still have the original copy, hammered out on the keys of my old 1980’s college era Smith-Corona typewriter.)  

     In Army ROTC classes, we continued studying Soviet/Warsaw pact miliary philosophy, command structure, weapons, strategy and tactics. I excelled. I graduated from Cornell in December 1985 as a “Distinguished Military Graduate”, at the top of my ROTC class, with a bachelor’s degree in government.

I was awarded a Regular Army commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, branched Military Intelligence, MOS (Military Occupational Specialty): “35D Tactical Intelligence Officer”. I successfully completed a special background investigation and was granted a “TOP SECRET (SCI)” security clearance.  My father proudly pinned gold bars on my shoulders at my commissioning ceremony.

     I remember packing my little two-wheel drive tan colored Nissan pickup truck and heading off to my first duty assignment; the U.S. Army Intelligence Center & School, Fort Huachuca, Arizona. I’d never been further southwest in my life to that point than Rixford, Pennsylvania.

     At Fort Huachuca, we studied Soviet military doctrine, weapons systems, capabilities, strategies, deployment capabilities and tactics in fine detail, much of it classified.  I was introduced to weapons systems like T-55, 62 & 72 tanks, BMP Infantry fighting vehicles, MiG aircraft, self-propelled artillery weapons systems, military fleet, communications systems, chemical warfare capabilities, mines and minefield deployment techniques, Spetsnaz force capabilities, and the full array of Soviet/Warsaw pact small arms weapons systems and capabilities.  

     I graduated from my Military Intelligence Officers Basic course six months later at the top of my class, winning the coveted “Buffalo Soldier’s Award” for leadership.

Ft. Huachuca’s
“Buffalo Soldier Award”

     I remember as the last days of class fast approached, we each eagerly looked forward to our first duty assignment. Every day, the personnel officer would come into class to announce newly available 2LT slots; “Two for Korea, three for Germany, one for Alaska.”  The most highly sought after were duty assignments to Hawaii or Italy. I just bided my time, waiting.

     I remember when finally, one day the personnel officer came in and announced “One 2LT slot for Fort Drum, 10th Mountain.” That was it. That was me. I was a north country boy from the mountains. I snatched it up. I was going to serve my country and help protect our nation against Soviet aggression from my new duty station near home.   

     I remember my first duty assignment at Fort Drum was “OPFOR section leader”. My section was primarily responsible for providing information and training to Fort Drum unit commanders and soldiers on Soviet/Warsaw pact small unit strategy, tactics and weapons systems.  

     I immersed myself in my craft. I attended a military training course in “Intelligence in Terrorism Counteraction”. I flew to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland for a week-long hands-on course in “OPFOR Weapons Maintenance”.  There we learned to field strip, assemble and fire a variety of Soviet and Warsaw Pact small arms weapons systems, including AK-47 assault rifles, SVD sniper rifles and RPG -7 grenade launchers, amongst others.

     I remember returning to Fort Drum and running a training course for infantry soldiers on the AK- 47. I would issue a challenge “Who here is the fastest at assembly/disassembly of their M16 Assault Rifle?” Invariably a hard charging soldier raised their hand. We’d have a contest; which of us could field strip, assemble and put into operation their weapon system the fastest. I’d have an AK-47. They’d have an M16. I won. Hands down. Every time. I daresay that at one point I was amongst the fastest men in the U.S. Army at assembling and disassembling the AK-47 assault rifle.    

     I remember going from there to my first infantry battalion assignment, 1st Brigade, 1-22 Infantry Battalion, “Regulars by God”.  I served over four years in that battalion, through two one-hundred-mile road marches, two battalion commanders, one unit deployment to Honduras, longer than any other officer during that time period.

     I remember President Reagan’s famous 1987 phrase from his speech.

“Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!”

“Tear Down This Wall”
Etched into Saranac Lake’s “Totally ’80’s” 2022 Winter Carnival Ice Palace Wall

      I went from 2nd lieutenant to promotable 1st lieutenant in that unit, completed Fort Drum’s Combat Leader’s Course and U.S. Army Ranger School, spending the last two years of my tenure there as the Battalion S-2, Intelligence Officer, a Captain’s posting, though I was still a 1st lieutenant.

     I remember 1989 was the year I went from 1-22 Infantry to my next duty assignment, as a promotable 1st lieutenant. I was still at Fort Drum, taking command of a 52-man ground surveillance radar platoon in 10th Mountain’s Intelligence Battalion. That fall the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain came down. A fellow MI officer from my officer’s basic course who had been stationed in Germany sent me some souvenirs from the wall.

“A Piece of The Berlin Wall”

     Iraq and the Middle east were heating up. My Soviet skill set was suddenly obsolete. I got a new set of orders. I wasn’t headed to the gulf, but south, to the undeclared “War on Drugs”. I quickly re-tooled, taught myself some quick “ersatz Spanish”, just enough to talk my way into a Honduran casino, or out of a Mexican jail.

     I remember serving out my time in that role. The Soviet Union had collapsed. Nuclear arms treaties were negotiated.  The Warsaw pact was no more. I no longer felt needed. My mission was complete. I left the service, met and married my wife, raised a family, went on with my life.

     That was all thirty years ago. My body has deteriorated. My weapons skill set is rusted. My “Po Ruskie” language skills are now “nyet”.  I sit in my living room now, an armchair warrior, watching closely as Putin’s Russian invasion unfolds against Ukraine.

    I hope and pray the rest of the world hasn’t forgotten history’s harsh lessons.

I remember.

Those we have elected to lead us cannot now in this moment afford to forget.


Author’s Endnote: I want to give a special acknowledgement to my Saranac Lake Social Studies/History teachers; Mr. McCarthy, Mr. Bell, and Mr. Nadler. Social Studies was always my favorite class. Social Studies and English were the two classes I could always depend on to help salvage my grade point average from subpar performances in science and math. As it turned out, that remained true in college. Their enthusiastically caring approach to teaching inspired me.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:

Another Piece of the Berlin Wall, sent to me immediately after it fell.


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