These Guys: Cold War Stories Told By Cold War Warriors, Collected & Edited by Trish Schiesser

Staff Sergeant Phillip C. Noland was a USAF Security Service Radio Intercept Analyst from 1951-65. Following successive assignments in Europe and the Far East, Sgt. Noland experienced baffling health issues and left active duty. He was later killed in a traffic accident in New York City.

Phil’s sister, Trish, has spent half a lifetime seeking answers to open questions about what Phil did in the Air Force and the illness that prematurely shortened his career. The discovery of unit alumni websites and email contacts enabled Trish’s correspondence with a great many helpers who guided her search for military records that might hold informative clues. Many also dug deeply, 40 to 50 years back into sometimes dimming memories, informing Trish that they remembered her brother or that they had served in USAF units similar to his, often suggesting ideas about what duties he probably performed. Some helped with translations of the acronyms and abbreviations in Phil’s military records and orders. Soon a substantial network of cyberspace helpers was filling the blanks in each others’ recollections.

As the email contacts mounted, a colorful first-person mural depicting the normally-hidden world of clandestine Cold War operations began to emerge. Trish was soon able to grasp not only the routines of her brother’s classified service but something more she hadn’t expected. Veterans of a shadowy unseen world, customarily reluctant to “talk about it” and officially restricted by lifetime secrecy oaths, had always lacked a public outlet for trading work-related reminiscences, claiming unrecognized credit, second-guessing the brass, documenting obscure exploits, questioning and criticizing, and otherwise offering pent-up personal commentaries. Before long, an expanding network broadened in scope well beyond the world of radio interception as headquarters types, aviators, blue water sailors, and veteran grunts of ground warfare added to the picture. Sensing their common need to communicate long-suppressed memories, Trish planted an Internet seed asking that Cold War anecdotes be contributed for a book she thought she might pull together.

Trish imposed a late 2008 cutoff for submissions, having selected 227 articles by 70 named authors and 11 who remain anonymous. At 718 pages, “These Guys” presents a spectrum of attempts at writing by many who haven’t done much formal writing (some results better than others). Several entries are verbatim emails containing tidbits of info, included just as Trish received them. Quite a few submissions are clearly long-awaited opportunities to vent frustrations that continue to trouble young troops since morphed into senior citizens. The articles are real, un-self-conscious, sometimes raw and spiced with strong GI language. The collection in “These Guys” is an untold part of Cold War secret operations history reported from the indispensable worker-bee level and parallels histories of earlier U.S. wars pieced together from troops’ letters home.

“These Guys” is highly recommended reading for Cold War-era veterans of cryptologic service, many of whom are going to learn something new or to find an explanation for something they may not have understood way-back-when or will have their memories jogged about long-forgotten events. The collected stories should also be an inspiration to reflective military, military family, and civilian role players of the Cold War years to document and share their experiences and contributions.

(Old Lieutenant Press, Portsmouth VA; 2009; 718 pp. — ISBN 0967016940. For ordering/pricing, contact the author Trish Schiesser, via email Clara19126@msn.com)