Sunday, August 21, 2022

A Blast from the Past

I'm trying to get back into the groove of writing regularly, but I find myself struggling to post even three times a week. (Yes, I'm counting posts made at Blue Collar Prepping). But even though it's late I have something for #3, because I'm one of those nutjobs who believes the week begins on Monday and not Sunday. 

Last week a friend shared this video with me because he knew I grew up in Cold War Europe and it reminded him of some of the stories I've told about that time. It immediately gave me major childhood flashbacks. Not traumatic flashbacks, mind you; just very intense nostalgia. 

This video is about a 1984 NATO exercise called Lionheart, the UK's largest mobilization since World War 2. I returned to America from Europe in 1984 so this is all intimately familiar to me, and in many ways this is how I still imagine Europe looks (even though I know it doesn't). 


You know how in farm communities you can get stuck behind a tractor slooooowly going along the road? In Germany in the 1980s, that would happen... except with tanks. I mean no-shit MBTs doing 40 mph on the surface streets. Let me tell you, it is freaking weird seeing street legal M-1 Abrams tanks with turn signals and license plates and all that. 

So, yeah, seeing that video made me want to break out my GI Joe toys, and I went on a total cruise down memory lane. In that vein, here are some tidbits of Cold War Army culture that most of you likely didn't know:

1) Theaters on US bases would always, Always, ALWAYS play the national anthem before a movie, and you would have to stand to attention if you were in the service or you could face disciplinary action. Non-service family members didn't have to, but they were, ahem, strongly encouraged to do so unless they had a very good reason, such as being nursing mothers. From the ages of 6-10 I would always stand up for it, and the reason I stopped at 10 is because we moved back to the States where we patronized civilian theaters instead. 

2) Similarly, at dawn and dusk the base PA speakers would play Reveille and Retreat, respectively, and if you were on foot you'd need to stop what you were doing and stand at attention in the general direction of the base flag, saluting if you were in the service and standing at attention (with my hand over my heart, I think?) if not. Kids would literally stop playing on the playground and stand at attention, it was that ingrained, and those who didn't were looked down upon as being crude and low class by the rest of us. 

3) AFN, the Armed/American Forces Network.  The usual TV networks (ABC, NBC, CBS) couldn't reach Europe, and Americans wanted to watch American programming, so the military got rebroadcast rights for a lot of programs and showed them anywhere from 6 to 12 months after they premiered in the states. But because AFN was just one station, it couldn't broadcast everything. If AFN didn't get the show, you just didn't watch it. 

Also, there were no commercials, because the military is the government and FedGov doesn't need corporate sponsorship. This meant that hour-long programs would run only 45-50 minutes, so they filled the gaps with...

OK, have you seen videos on YouTube about military equipment with that cheesy and distinctive 80's synth music? They were like that, and they felt like they were half propaganda, half "Dear Pentagon, please fund this project".

Do you remember Airwolf? Those videos looked more or less like that, except without the credits and the handsome actors/pretty actresses. 


So that was my 1980s flashback. I hope you found it informative, or at least entertaining. 

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