Given the events of the last few weeks, I find myself looking back to those "good old days." For instance, in elementary school, it seemed that there was always a classmate wearing braces on their legs, a legacy of polio before the vaccine became widespread and mandatory. I also remember really cool TV commercials with cowboys riding the range and lighting up their Marlboro cigarette after a hard day's work.
It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that men in their 40s didn't have to have a retching cough and eject phlegm out of the car window as did my father (a two-pack-a-day man). Card parties my mom attended (with kids exiled to the basement to play with Lionel Trains) had a smoke cloud that reached down to the height of a card table, which held all the good stuff, like chips, dip, etc. Learning to "low-crawl" to that table without being asphyxiated became a childhood skill as important as skipping rocks over a pond.
Yes, such fond memories ... the Marlboro Man died of cancer sometime in the '70s or '80s, and my dad quit smoking cold turkey when his doctor told him he had a choice: Quit smoking or get his personal affairs in order.
Of course there were many other fond memories. We were an Air Force family with my dad frequently off to faraway places: He worked a lot in research and development, and in those days, long-range endurance flights for heavy bombers were the norm. Once, he went to work in the morning and returned in late evening, handing me a few stones for my rock collection from his brief stop in Greenland.
Then there was the Cold War, which placed nuclear-armed bombers on "ready alert" on a runway about a mile from our home. Nobody dug bomb shelters in our community during the civil defense craze as it was pointless; we lived at ground-zero, and, in a nuclear war, it would all be over very quickly.
In October 1983, I was a company commander in Germany. On a cold, dark morning, an alert ordered me to immediately report to my unit. Tremors from tanks rumbling down the cobblestone streets shook the building. Combat units began deploying to their assigned defense positions, expecting an imminent attack from the Soviet Union. The bad guys had about 50,000 tanks forward-deployed across Eastern Europe along with thousands of tactical and strategic nuclear weapons. Our job was to dissuade them by ensuring that our response would make such an attack a very bad idea.
That morning, my wife, expecting our third child, naturally went into labor and terrified a German taxi driver as she told him in German, "Hospital, FAST!" As my unit was preparing to join a convoy heading to the field, I began receiving reports about her condition and status such as, "Captain Fonzi, your wife is at the gate," only to discover that she was already at the hospital. The alert was soon canceled, just another drill designed to cause Army spouses lost sleep. I connected with my wife just in time at the delivery room, handing an orderly my rifle and web gear as I donned a hospital gown, quickly entering the room just in time to see the lady doc field a great catch as my second daughter was born.
The Cold War almost became a very hot war that October with international affairs already tense. American Rangers parachuted on to Point Salinas airfield in Grenada, encountering anti-aircraft fire so heavy that they elected to go in low, under 600 feet for the jump. Reserve parachutes would not be able to deploy in time if their main chute failed, so they left them behind, relying solely upon their main chute. Terrorists in Lebanon also blew up the Marine barracks in a suicide attack, killing 242 Marines, while also attacking the American and French embassies. Finally, that October, the Soviets nearly launched a nuclear attack on Europe, their aging leadership misreading a communications exercise for a nuclear strike on their homeland.
In 1987, the stock market crashed, terrifying millions of investors and forcing my cousin's son to re-open his hot dog stand on New York streets after he lost his stock-broker job. He eventually recovered, but the event left emotional scars on a generation that had never experienced such an event.
Today's events make one yearn for the "stability" of times past. We're facing a pandemic of fear, a falling stock market with Main Street in jeopardy, and a disrupted distribution system for essentials, like toilet paper. The "just-in-time" super efficient supply system designed in the '90s is based upon a supply algorithm not easily changed, with warehouse capacity limited, deemed unnecessary by bean counters. Our energy independence is also threatened by a Saudi-Russian price feud which has the Saudis dumping oil on the market, crashing our shale-oil industry as oil prices collapse. Don't cheer too much as high prices and gas shortages may follow.
Every generation faces crisis and survives somewhat battered. So shall we. Δ
Al Fonzi had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Irag wars. Respond in a letter to the editor emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.