GW Plankowner Remembers Cold War Navy

Story Number: NNS020827-05Release Date: 8/27/2002 9:43:00 AM
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By Journalist 3rd Class Matthew Liddell, USS George Washington Public Affairs

ABOARD USS GEORGE WASHINGTON, At Sea (NNS) -- Aviation Machinist's Mate 1st Class (AW) Jim Blandford's Navy experience began when he was a child.

The USS George Washington (CVN 73) Sailor said his family's travels often gave him a front row seat to world events as they unfolded.

"I was in Guantanamo, [Cuba] when [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro shut the water off to the base. I was small then, about four or five. I remember seeing the water buffaloes, those big helicopters that flew water in for us," Blandford said. "I didn't really know what was happening at the time, but the Cuban Missile Crisis was happening."

In late 1962 President John F. Kennedy received information that the Soviet Union had stored long-range missiles near San Cristobal, Cuba. From there, the missiles could easily strike the East Coast of the United States. That November, the situation came to a standoff that held the world on the brink of nuclear war. Blandford remembers being confused and scared for his father's safety.

"All I really remember was my sister and my mother and I being flown out. We went to go stay with my grandparents in Maryland for a while," Blandford said. "When we came back, things had settled down a bit but we could still see the Cuban troops playing little games with our Marines."

Blandford watched these games not on television or in some far away place, but practically in his back yard.

"The Cubans would be out around the fence line; they would point their guns at our Marines, throw things at them, anything to provoke the Americans to fire first so they would have some reason to start shooting."

Blandford said it was a confusing time for him then, and his father, a sonar technician, wasn't able to tell him exactly what he was doing during the time he was away.

"He just had to tell me that the work he was doing was classified and he would never be able to discuss it."

Blandford said that Sailors today might not realize how real the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union was. Even in his early school days, he would see his classmates reacting to parental fears.

Blandford said that when he considered enlisting he wasn't sure what his path was going to be.

When he finally decided to enlist in 1983 at age 23, world events had not changed dramatically. Communism was still a threat, and the seas the U.S. Navy sails today were once filled with hostile Soviet ships.

"My first deployment was on the [USS John F.] Kennedy [CV 67]. One of my earliest memories was a submarine periscope popping out of the water between us and a supply ship when we were replenishing. We had heard so much about the [Soviets], and there, on our first deployment, there they were right down there in the water."

Blandford said his ship's confrontations with the Soviet Union didn't end there. He said he has many memories of seeing [Soviet] sailors practically eye-to-eye, and experiencing first hand what tactics they were using to wage the cold war.

"There used to be these Russian fishing trawlers that would follow behind the ship and wait for us to dump our trash," Blandford recalled. "We would throw our trash overboard, and right there, we would see the Russians pulling it out of the water. We'd stand there on the flight deck and watch them go through our love letters, magazines, whatever. They were looking for any secrets they could find."

Blandford said that when communism finally collapsed in the early '90s he wasn't surprised. With each deployment he made he was seeing fewer and fewer Soviet ships, and the news was saying it was just a matter of time before the Soviet Union did collapse.

Blandford remembered getting his Cold War appreciation certificate shortly after the Soviet Union collapsed. He said that a certificate and a 'thank you' could hardly express what it was that Sailors went through at the time.

"It's hard for some of [the younger Sailors] to imagine what we once went through. It was a war of words with high stakes and a lot of bluffs, we'll probably never see anything like it again."

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USS Washington transits the Arabian Sea
Official U.S. Navy file photo of USS George Washington (CVN 73)
August 26, 2002
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