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.
back to Interview Transcripts