Excerpt from Fighting the Cold War: A Soldier’s Memoir

Whether you are a history buff, or a lover of all things book related, this autobiography is something that everyone can sink their teeth into. Written by Jack Galvin, Fighting the Cold War: A Soldier’s Memoir depicts the story of Galvin’s sixty year involvement in shaping American and International history from the start of World War II all the way to the post-Cold War Era.

To get you excited for the release of UPK’s upcoming book, here is a prepared excerpt, which discusses the procedures Galvin was taught, while in Puerto Rico, to deal with nuclear detonation and fallout by simulating a nuclear explosion with exploding gasoline barrels.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

After Ranger School, I drove to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, turned in my car for shipment to Puerto Rico, and on the last day of March 1955 found myself looking up in awe as our troopship eased into the narrow channel between Isla de Cabras and the looming walls of the fortress San Felipe del Morro. The ever-pounding waves out of the north pushed us along through the slot and into San Juan Harbor, where we docked at Fort Buchanan.

My orders sent me to the 65th Infantry Regimental Combat Team. I arrived at Ponce as a platoon leader just in time to go on a field maneuver. I scrambled into my fatigues and boots, then dashed for the line of trucks. The lead vehicles were already on the move, and by the time I ran down to the truck bearing the I Company guidon I was barely able to find the platoon and jump for the tailgate before we moved out. My platoon sergeant gave me a hand and pulled me in. I told him that I was the new platoon leader and said, “You’ve probably heard about that.” He replied, rather mournfully, “Yes.”

As we bounced along under the canvas with the dust pouring in over the tailgate, I went down the line of seats and shook hands with the squad leaders and troops. It was awkward: stepping over packs and weapons and ration boxes; trying to talk over the noise of the truck’s engine and the flip-flap of loose canvas. Sergeant First Class Vidro had been the acting platoon leader for quite a while, and he was still the platoon leader as far as he was concerned. He made room for me, though, and we shook hands, and amid quizzical looks I squeezed in between him and the tailgate. As we drove along, first through the cane fields and then up into the hills of the National Forest, I quizzed him on what we could anticipate on arrival, and on how we could expect the day to go.

Sergeant Vidro was taciturn, his responses hesitant. He looked off into the dust behind us and said something close to, “It will be just like always. An order from the captain and we move out.” It was hard to extract much more detail. After we got out to the forest, Vidro and I had our first of several talks about how we would work this out: what his job was now as platoon sergeant once again and what mine was as platoon leader. It was the first big challenge that I faced in my professional life: to keep him motivated and happy, to keep the platoon itself feeling that the right thing had been done, and to insert myself into the proper leadership position. All this took place over several weeks.

Our field maneuvers in Puerto Rico with the 65th followed a certain pattern, in accordance with the colonel’s goal, which was to improve our ability to fight a nuclear war. We would move out to some area that we had rented, seize the best ground, dig our foxholes deep, and await the aggressors. Our plan was to defend as long as we could, then pull back quickly (at night), leaving a small covering force and falling back ten kilometers. Before first light, we would fire a nuclear weapon equivalent to thousands of tons of conventional explosives, which the umpires out in front of us would simulate by detonating a barrel of a gasoline mix. Then—watching carefully in order to avoid our own fallout pattern—we would charge forward and mop up, attacking and defeating the remaining enemy. On a warm, gentle, breezy night in Puerto Rico, with our hill position surrounded by distant fires as the harvested sugar cane fields were burnt off, the sweet smell drifting over us—along with the smell, as in a library, of oxidizing paper—and the sudden flash of fire on the top of a hill gave me a sense of vertigo. One time I said to the company commander, “We’re only backing up a mile or so. The radius from ground zero would be far more than that.” With a pained look he explained, “If we back up any more we’ll be outside the training area that we rented.”

To find out more on Fighting the Cold War and other historic UPK books, go check out our website.

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About University Press of Kentucky

The University Press of Kentucky has a dual mission—the publication of books of high scholarly merit in a variety of fields for a largely academic audience and the publication of books about the history and culture of Kentucky, the Ohio Valley region, the Upper South, and Appalachia. The Press is the statewide mandated nonprofit scholarly publisher for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, operated as an agency of the University of Kentucky and serving all state institutions of higher learning, plus five private colleges and Kentucky's two major historical societies.

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