Memories Of World War III: The Road To War Part I

In the eyes of most prominent military historians, the road to the Third World War was a one-way thoroughfare opened to traffic on 28 April,1987 with the coup in Moscow. Grigory Romanov’s hypersonic ascent to power left the world stunned and numb with shock. In the blink of an eye, the warming relationship between the United States and Soviet Union was over. In its place was an immediate throwback to the tense and unpredictable early years of the 1980s when war between the superpowers appeared almost imminent. Romanov was a hardliner driven by a solid foundation of ideology coupled with a deep suspicion and hatred of the West and its political and economic systems. Gorbachev was gone, his fate remaining a mystery. The desires of the former general secretary to foster more friendly relations with the United States in preparation for sweeping domestic reforms at home were dead and buried. In their place was Romanov’s harsh realization of the extent of the Soviet Union’s problems both at home and abroad. The ship that was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was nearly dead in the water with multiple holes in the stern which its pumps could not hope to keep up with. It did not take long for Romanov to reach the conclusion that decisive, bold action was necessary to save the Soviet Union, as well as the Party. Unfortunately, the options available which could be considered bold and decisive were limited. Romanov could continue to push forward with Gorbachev’s reforms and hope the change stabilized the Soviet Union and its satellite states. Or he could decide to make use of the Soviet military to reestablish the balance of power in Moscow’s favor. If the war option was selected, Romanov’s military leaders warned him, it must be launched by the end of Summer ’87. The Soviet superiority in quantity was rapidly being neutralized by the superior quality of US and Western soldiers and weapons. The clock was ticking and Soviet military power, to the shock of General Secretary Romanov, was apparently a perishable asset.

Starting in late April the road to the Third World War gained heavy amounts of traffic with each passing day. Predictably, it was members of the US military who first sensed the danger and began preparing their units, themselves, and their families for the possibility of a major war breaking out in the near future. It was instinct that drove them to respond more than anything else. In the second part of this post, two US veterans of WWIII will speak about their experiences from May of 1987 through early July of the same year. Point of view will go back and forth between the men as the timeline advances. Please bear in mind this is something of a learning process for me, so if I fudge the new format, I will be sure to learn from it in future interview posts. 😊

Below, I have included a pair of brief biographical sketches of these men to provide background information for the readers.

Jack Ryder-In April, 1987 Jack Ryder was a thirty-five year old US Army major serving as a battalion operations officer in the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kansas. Ryder, a graduate of Purdue University, was a thirteen-year veteran of the service, having received his commission in 1974 when the post-Vietnam US Army was still in a period of soul searching and attempting to find itself. Things would get worse before they improved, but Ryder was in for the long haul. He rode out the lean times and was rewarded when the Army, and other US service branches reaped the benefits of the Reagan rearmament in the late 80s. By 1987, Ryder’s confidence in the US Army and his own abilities as a soldier and officer was total.

Frank Baker– Captain Frank Baker, USAF was part of a new generation of Air Force pilots, better educated, trained and equipped than his predecessors The twenty-seven-year-old F-15C Eagle pilot with the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Langley AFB, Virginia was regarded as one of the top three pilots in the squadron. His CO considered him to be not only a natural pilot, but a superb, instinctive fighter pilot as well. Baker’s aggressive nature in the sky was tempered by his role as a husband and father of two children at home. He was still working out a way to juggle his growing family and flying responsibilities in April 1987.

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