Veteran Salute: Army service when Cold War was heating up

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Wichita veteran says his father was a pilot during WWII, so he wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Joe Prouse wanted to be a pilot or work in aircraft maintenance, but he couldn’t because he was color blind.

Prouse got a draft notice, but he knew that if he volunteered, he might not have to go into the infantry.

He ended up serving during a very interesting time in our country.

When Joe Prouse first got into the Army, he was making $79 a month.

“So, I didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend,” Army Veteran Joe Prouse said.

He wrote a special note on his boot camp photo.

“To my darlling wife on our wedding day, all my love forever,” Prouse said.

When the two tied the knot, Prouse had already been drafted.

“I was 19-years-old having my nose glued to a radar scope,” Prouse said.

He was stationed in Texas.

“That was one of the first times, I’d actually gotten up close to one of the birds,” Prouse said.

He served with an Army missile unit.

“We saw what was going on, on the news, but we really didn’t have any sense of the gravity of what was going on,” Prouse said.

Shortly after Prouse signed up, the U.S. and Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war.

“We would make an advance, and then, the Russians would make an advance to counter,” Prouse said.

He said they were always on alert.

“We were on six on, and six off, and six hours off you were usually sleeping or on guard duty, because we had posted extra guards around the site and everything,” Prouse said.

He said there were times they thought war was imminent.

“Almost two weeks, everything was really, really tense,” Prouse said.

He said they also stayed “ready to go” for the next two weeks.

“We went to DEFCON 2, that’s just under war,” Prouse said.

He said he’ll never forget the siren.

“Every time that thing went off, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach,” Prouse said.

He said it wasn’t until things settled down that he realized just how close the country came to nuclear war.

“It could have gone either way, depending on what the Cubans and Russians did, or what we did,” Prouse said.

He said they never knew what would surface on the radar.

“Every once in a while, we would get an unknown coming up out of the Gulf of Mexico,” Prouse said.

He said in some cases they would lock on to their targets.

“Where all that it would take for the missile to go down range was for a Captain or 2nd Lt. to lift a red cap, and flip a toggle switch and there they went,” Prouse said.

He said there was something about the missiles.

“We had no conventional warheads, on anything, but we had 12 missiles on our site,” Prouse said.

Prouse did several different jobs in the military, and says his time as an electronics warfare specialist was very interesting.

“The aircraft have jamming devices, and we have equipment on the ground that we can counter what they do, with the jamming,” Prouse said.

He said there were days he wasn’t sure he would ever see his next birthday.

“That was my last day in the Army, I was walking out of the mess hall,” Prouse said.

He did his time as a soldier, then got out of the service, and apparently the wedding gift of his boot camp photo worked out.

Joe and his wife have now enjoyed 58 years of marriage.

Prouse said after the missile crisis was over, one day they locked onto a plane on the radar.

He said they immediately started taking calls.

The plane that was locked in on their radar was Air Force One.

He said the young troops learned their lesson that day, and never did that again.

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