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Lt. General James Edmundson on: Living with the Possibilty
James Edmundson Q: What was the effect, of constantly living with the thought of launching a nuclear attack against a specific target?

JE: It was very close to you. The biggest thing in your life was your wartime mission. And you--you were held for that. You lived for it. You knew that they might blow the whistle at any time, and when they did, that's where you were going. Unit commanders, group commanders, wing commanders, were never permitted to be more than three rings away on the telephone. When you were flying, you were-- you were tied into the TAC [Tactical Air Command] command center or the SAC [Strategic Air Command] command center. But when you were on the ground, you checked with them and--and told them the number at which you could be reached. If you wanted to go out for dinner with your wife, your family, you had a radio in your car that you'd be on, say, "I'm going to be mobile, and when I come off of mobile, I'll be at such-and-such a number" (the number of the restaurant or the theater). When you'd go in, you'd let them know who you were, and the--the possibility that you might get a phone call while you were there. So this was a--a pretty controlling way to live.

Q: How real did the threat seem? How real was that possibility of going to war with this tremendous new force?

JE: Well, we all felt that this was in the cards, that unless we were good-- If we slipped, if we were not capable of doing our job, that the Russians would eventually move in and take over. We didn't know [whether] they'd come and outright bomb us, but there were other things that they might do that would trigger machinery in Washington which would launch SAC. So it was-- it was...I think, the cutting edge of the Cold War. And that's what SAC crews and SAC commanders were on. It was a very fine line...Athletes don't peak and stay that way forever. They peak and then they sit back and rest, and then they peak for another game. And this was peaking once and then staying that way for--for 10 years, and living at the peak, and--and feeling the pressure that--that goes with it. So it's-- It was a tough life.

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