World War III was different from World Wars I and II. The latter were violent, relatively short, and bolstered by a population generally united behind the fighting man. World Warm, on the other hand, was a long-drawn-out war, lasting forty-five years from 1945 to 1990. This war was probably the most complicated, most expensive, and most dangerous to the security of the United States than any previous war, save the American Revolution. The enemy was insidious, attacking us outright, from the shadows, and from within. The country was divided in its zeal for victory. Casualties were high in personnel, equipment, and in careers, from presidents and premiers to the lowest common soldier. One can never totally be sure that the war has finally been won, but judging by the economic and political status of the former Soviet Union, a Soviet regeneration seems remote at this point in time. Certainly, the Warsaw Pact is dead and gone. And while there were no victory parades, the equivalent was felt when Leonard Bernstein conducted Beethoven’s Ninth, the “Ode to Joy,” in celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, New Years Day, 1991, and tears of joy and relief were shed around the world, and tired soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen could finally come off alert later in the year.
While many forces were involved, ranging from SAC bombers to fleets to armies stationed overseas, clearly one of the leaders of the campaign was the Submarine Service. SSNs and SSBNs alike played major roles, and veterans of countless deployments and patrols can look back with pride on their victory and feel a sense of accomplishment from the hours, days, and months of long lonely vigils beneath the sea. For the attack boat sailors, they often formed the front lines in all the oceans of the world, alert for enemy movements, unusual events, and deployments. They were on station to detect the first signs of conflict, to monitor new developments, and to gather intelligence regarding new hardware and tactics. Submarine forces were almost always the first to respond and continually had to maintain a high state of readiness for rapid deployment — a capability often tested.
For the SSBN sailors from the first patrol of GEORGE WASHINGTON, and for the patrols before POLARIS, they were on continual alert, tested, and ready to respond. They provided the deterrent that led to the Soviet step-down from the Cuban missile crisis, and in their long independent patrols were on the front lines providing the major deterrence that kept the world away from the horrors of nuclear war – and, most important of all, we never fired one missile in anger – deterrence worked!
So submarine veterans, as well as all the veterans of the 45years cold war, the most dangerous of modem wars, can look back with pride on their service to their country, even though they will never be recognized by massive parades down Constitution Avenue or showered with ticker tape. We may be off alert at last, but the need for readiness and the need to be the best in the world will always remain. World War m was a cold war with many small conflagrations to extinguish, but can we step down or demobilize as we did after both of the previous wars? Not by a long shot, for even though the status of the former Soviet Union may no longer be in a position to wage a major war, other would-be worJd rulers and nuclear powers are readying themselves to step into the void and assert their claim for world dominance. The veterans of the 45-years war can stand proud, but the vigil continues for the new warriors. And that vigil is a whole new challenge that, drawing on the lessons from the cold war, will require support from personnel and technology.