Article by Barbara Cornell.
Syndicated from Barbara Cornell’s personal blog.
New Year’s Eve 1984, through the prism of time, has oddly begun to encapsulate an entire decade for me. That evening was just so «80’s», it would have been impossible to reproduce it in another time.
December 31, it was approaching midnight and the party was at our house, as it usually was, and consisted mostly of the other men from my father’s unit and their families and other military members from our church. We had chosen to live «on the economy» about 60 km from the base in central Germany. I was aware of snippets of conversation around me that were fairly normal…
…my father with a group of his colleagues bantering in inscrutable pilot humor. «…So they’re screaming across the jungle and their radio man says, ‘Tower, we don’t know where in the bloody hell we’re going, but we’re making damn good time.'» «Hyark-hyark-hyark.»
…a pair of women conversing. «I tried to find the same inlaid wood like I got at the OWC bazaar last year…»
…a lady gritching to another wife. «…Since we have to replace our ration cards again…»
A noise so loud, it froze all activity. For a moment, all was silent, and then there were the sounds of children and a woman screaming, muffled because of the impact on my eardrums. I pulled my hands away from my face where instinct had pulled them to see, through the fog that had taken over my mind, shards of glass and blood dripping from my hands and arms. All around me were the remnants of every window in the house and scraps of the hyper-effective «rolladen» that had been splintered by the explosion.
My mind provided an immediate explanation: «Bomb. War. It’s finally happened.»
We’d all spent the last years being trained and retrained in what to do in the event that the cold war heated up. Terrorist threats were so commonplace to our everyday lives that checking our cars for explosive devices was just another checklist item, and hours upon hours of waiting in the snow in the soccer field for the school to be checked for bombs taught me never to go anywhere without my coat. Now it was real. Somehow I always knew it would be.
By the time I’d gotten my head in order, my father was already on the phone and several of the men had begun to collect people from other rooms to organize everyone into family groups and take a head count. The younger children were scared but it seemed that (nearly) everyone else knew what he was supposed to do. I fit into the group in the part of the older child and teenager segment and our job was to stay calm, out of the way, and help to calm the younger children.
But I noticed there was one woman…well…at least she had stopped screaming. Thank God for that. But now she was yammering hysterically, “This is what we get for putting that RETARD in the Whitehouse!!! How long have I been saying that idiot Reagan was going to get us ALL KILLED!!!” I thought, “Lady, this is precisely the wrong crowd at exactly the wrong time to be badmouthing the enormously popular Commander in Chief.” Apparently, her husband thought so as well because he was whispering to her in attempts to calm her down. They were accepted and loved but they had always been, well, peculiar. He was a civilian contractor. He actually wore a beard — you know, like, hair growing out of his face; she couldn’t discern rank or unit from a uniform. Odd.
“….Major Proctor’s trying to get through to the base to find out about our orders…”
«…Has anyone heard from the 132nd? They’re supposed to be on call for…»
«…Where’s Kyle? I can’t find Kyle. Has anyone seen Kyle?»
Someone had turned on the radio. “You’re listening to Armed Forces Network. It’s twelve o’clock in Central Europe. Do you know where your children are? Beep beep…The Red Cross is attempting to reach…”
Red Cross travel searches? Charlie Toona? Top 40 music? AFN was broadcasting nothing on the bombing? How was this possible? It had to have been at least 15 minutes!
My father came into the room, “The base has nothing on this. Security level is normal.”
The sound of sirens, every police car, ambulance, fire truck for miles disturbed the German night — a truly rare occurrence. We followed the direction of the emergency vehicles down the street and gazed down the hill to see…where just this morning had stood the three-story, 30,000 square foot Feuerwerkfabrik (fireworks factory) now was an empty charred field, several large angry fires and miscellaneous chunks of smoking steel and hadite. The warehouses which were set somewhat apart from the main building were emitting the most spectacular fireworks display ever hosted. We all stood for a long time watching the greens, blues, reds, golds, silvers, laughing at our assumption, and breathing in the relief.
We would not be sending our men off to war.