Taking a front seat on world affairs
LVN Editor Emeritus
For 13 of his 20 years during the Cold War, Dave Warren had a front-row seat as he watched major news events of the century unfold.
From the Cuban missile crisis to the Shah of Iran being overthrown in the late 1970s, the Fallon veteran remembers the world reaction during these events, especially when the missile crisis in 1962 almost put both the United States and Soviet Union on the brink of nuclear war. The maneuvering by each country 56 years ago ended over negotiations during a 13-day span in late October when the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle its weapons in Cuba in exchange for the U.S. promising not to invade the island country.
Cuba, 90 miles from the Florida Keys, had asked the Soviet Union to install missile systems to protect the oblong-shaped country from the U.S. after the Bay of Pigs invasion failed to overthrow the Castro government in 1961. Once a plane photographed Russian ships heading toward Cuba and other surveillance photos revealed installed missile launch pads, President John F. Kennedy ordered a naval blockade to prevent additional missiles reaching the communist country.
Warren, who received advanced training in avionics at the Navy’s A school, was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, a well-traveled ship that saw extensive action during World War II. The Intrepid, though, was reclassified to an anti-submarine warfare carrier in late 1961 and was overhauled and refitted for its new anti-submarine warfare mission. The Intrepid had also undergone extensive repairs after 100-foot waves in the North Atlantic caused extensive damage to the flight deck and hangar. Once repairs were completed and the aircraft carrier left drydock, Warren and the ship’s crew, who were stationed at Norfolk, Va., sailed extensively in the Caribbean Sea in 1962.
“We spent more time in the Caribbean than in Norfolk,” said the 76-year-old Warren, as he discussed his Navy days. “We would go out for six to eight weeks and then be at home port for a week.”
Later in the year, though, Warren married his sweetheart on Oct. 20, but two days later, the president appeared on national television to alert the American public to a situation involving missiles photographed on Cuban soil and a blockade implemented against Russian ships carrying missiles.
“That Wednesday, President Kennedy gave a speech on the Cuban blockade, and on Sunday we headed toward Jacksonville,” Warren said. “The way we saw it first hand, aircraft was taking photos as they flew over the area.”
The Intrepid added attack aircraft on its deck and transferred many sailors, including Warren, to a Navy base near Jacksonville, Fla. With the Intrepid out to sea and moving down the Florida coast, the Navy fighters didn’t scramble from Naval Air Station Jacksonville but from the ship’s deck. Warren said each jet could stay up in the air from four to six hours and added the aircraft carrier was ready for war. Surveillance aircraft also photographed Soviet submarines following U.S. naval warships and then notified the Navy of their locations as did other ships sailing in the area of operation.
The Navy, with additional ships from the Coast Guard, set up a northern sector near Jacksonville, while the majority of ships sailed into the southern sector as defined by Key West. Even with the blockade over by the end of October, the Intrepid remained at sea, and Warren and his shipmates stayed at Jacksonville.
“The day before Thanksgiving, the commander (at Jacksonville) told us to plan on being here after Christmas, but 45 minutes later, he said we’re going home,” Warren said.
The mood among the sailors was one of relief. A month earlier before the United States and Soviet Union came to an agreement, Warren felt the world was within 15 minutes of possible destruction.
“We were that close to a nuclear war,” he said. “It was more like a standoff, but we were all there geared up to whatever direction we had to go.”
During the crisis, Warren said the Panama Canal became a concern. If the Soviet Union escalated the situation, Warren said they could shut down or destroy a portion of the canal to prevent the Navy’s Pacific Fleet from arriving in an expeditious manner.
“The Pacific Fleet would’ve had to go around South America,” Warren added.
During Warren’s tour with the Intrepid, the aircraft carrier and other ships in its anti-submarine group also used the former Vieques Naval Training Range at the eastern end of Puerto Rico for live training exercises, ship-to-shore gunfire, air-to-ground bombing and U.S. Marine amphibious landings.
Warren again found himself close to history in late 1963 when he and his wife travelled to the Washington, D.C. area to see his aunt. On the day they arrived, a lone gunman assassinated Kennedy in Dallas at about the same time the Warrens arrived in Manassas, Va.
“That was really a shock,” Warren said, pointing to an originally published copy of the Nov. 22, 1963, edition of The Washington Post that hangs on his home-office wall.
The Navy’s calling beckoned Warren at an early age. He had a desire to join the Navy since he was a 6-year-old growing up in West Virginia. When he saw a sailor in his white uniform standing next to a country road, he told his mom, “That’s what I want to be.” Warren enlisted in 1960 after his high school graduation and completed his basic training at San Diego and his advanced school at Millington, Tenn. Yet, after his initial four-year enlistment in the Navy, Warren left the service until the bug bit him again to return to the military. Months later, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to work on airborne radios, maintain communications and intercom systems and all equipment that was used when airplanes travelled across the ocean.
Warren’s first years in the Air Force took him to Williams AFB outside of Phoenix and then to Hawaii where he maintained radios. He also spent time in Japan.
“I was sent to Yakota, Japan (in 1967). They had a triage there, and a C-141 was getting the wounded out of Vietnam,” he said.
Across country went Warren to Loring AFB in northeastern Maine and after a tour in New England, he headed west to Southeast Asia. Although he didn’t report to South Vietnam, Warren found himself near the Thailand city of Ubon Ratchathani, where the United States and the Thai government operated a joint military air force base during the Vietnam War. The Central Intelligence Agency had launched a secret war against Laos and was using military assets based in neighboring countries. AC-130 gunships flew out of Ubon Royal Air Base, which was 303 miles northeast from Bangkok and strategically located north of Cambodia and west of Laos. Planes flying out of Ubon destroyed sections of the Ho Chi Minh trail — a major north-south route used for moving weapons, equipment, supplies and soldiers — that wound itself through North Vietnam through eastern Laos and then into South Vietnam.
“There was a network of trails in Laos,” Warren said, adding the Air Force had sequential times for the gun ships to take off and fly over Laos. “The AC130s always flew at night and a group always took off every four hours. The last returning flight came at 8 in the morning.”
Each AC130 carried a crew of 14, and Warren remembers after he left Thailand, the Air Force lost a gunship on one of its missions. The aircraft was eventually found in Laotian jungle, though, in the mid-1980s.
After Thailand and with several statewide stops and another in Okinawa, Warren found himself in Izir, Turkey along the eastern Mediterranean coast during the late 1970s. Izir is the home of for one of Turkey’s strategic military installations run by the U.S. Air Force in Europe, and Turkey is also a partner in NATO, the North American Treaty Organization.
“Although it was a nice change, it wasn’t a good time to be there,” said Warren, who had changed his occupation specialty to a club manager.
Iran shared a southeast border with Turkey at a time when an Iranian revolution forced the Shah out of the country in Jan. 16, 1979, after two years of clashes between revolutionaries and the military. After the overthrow, militants held hostage 52 American diplomats and citizens, while the new government invited the religious and political leader Ayatollah Khomeini to return to Iran where he became the country’s Supreme Leader in December.
Warren said the Turk fighters who stood by with the U.S. forces had a reputation of being warriors on the battlefield, if the Iranian situation spilled into Turkey.
After a 20-year career, Warren retired in 1980 and returned to Gilbert, Ariz., to work in electronic sales. He later moved to Las Vegas and spent 12 years there as a wedding consultant and worked for four wedding chapels. Eight years ago, Warren’s life took another major change. His wife, Janice, applied for an opening with a government agency in Fallon and was offered the job. Since they‘ve been in Fallon, Warren became involved with the Masonic Lodge as an officer and now the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons of Nevada.
Warren has collected numerous memorabilia from his years with the Navy and Air Force including photos, caps, patches and newspapers. As the West Virginia native reminisced, he kept returning to important world events.
“I was involved in a lot of history being made,” he said.