There weren't any major battles, but the Cold War did have a front line, and that's where Rogersville restaurateur Ben McGrew was stationed as a member of the U.S. Air Force (1977-81) in what was then called “West Germany” near the Iron Curtain.
McGrew will be the keynote speaker at Monday's Veteran's Day program in front of the Hawkins County Courthouse in downtown Rogersville.
This has been a busy time for McGrew, who recently opened a new restaurant in downtown Rogersville called “Red Dog on Main” with his fellow Florida native and lifelong friend Randy Lord.
McGrew and Lord have been best friends since the 2nd grade, and after they graduated high school in 1976 they joined the Air Force together, along with a third friend, Lex Geddings.
Neither of their families have a long military tradition, although both of their father's served.
“We just felt the calling to go, and we did,” McGrew told the Times-News Thursday.
“We went to boot camp together, we went through our tech schools together, and at that point we got split into different areas,” McGrew added. “Randy was in Turkey, and I did two tours back-to-back in Germany. Back then it was West Germany. It was easy to get around, especially if you were in the Air Force, and he came to Germany to visit me a number of times during the two years we were both over there. We traveled around Europe together. And Lex, our other best friend, he got stationed mostly stateside.”
McGrew was an avionics specialist on F-4s. He worked on radar, instrument landing systems, radios — pretty much anything on the plane for communication or navigation.
F-4s probably had the least enviable job during the Cold War in the event that war broke out.
“The aircraft we worked on was an F-4 C Model and D Model, and their mission was a one way trip,” McGrew added. “They'd get up, and full afterburner eastbound toward Russia, and that was it. There was nuclear weapons on them, so there was no return. It was peacetime, but you're living that close to the perceived threat at that time.”
McGrew added, “The Cold War was real. We trained for it every day. It was a real thing, especially in Europe that close to Russia. We would go on alert with gas masks and protective suits, and have to work in that for 18 hours at a time, because there was a real threat.”
As of Thursday he was still writing his presentation for Monday, but he did come up with a tentative title: “Veterans Day through the eyes of a Cold War veteran”.
“Veterans are a community, and I've been accepted as an outsider into this community, and part of that is through the veteran angle,” McGrew said. “I've had veterans reach out to me, joined the local VFW and American Legion, and we want to support the groups that support our veterans. It's a community of veterans.”
Mondays Veterans Day program in Rogersville begins at 11 a.m. with Cub Scout Pack 100 conducting the traditional ringing of the bell 11 times on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
The opening prayer will be given by Rev. Tecky Hicks, followed by opening remarks by master of ceremonies Capt. (Ret.) Larry Wheeler from the Rogersville VFW.
The raising of the flag will be conducted by the combined NJROTC from Cherokee and Volunteer high schools, and the National Anthem will be sung by Mary Ellen Broome.
The Pledge of Allegiance will be led by Rogersville VFW Commander Dave Evans, followed by the introduction of the keynote speaker by Wheeler.
Following McGrew's speech there will be a placing of the wreaths on the Veterans' Memorial by the Gold Star relatives, Ladies Auxiliaries, and the local Son of the American Revolution.
Rogersville American Legion Commander Dennis Elkins will then release balloons in honor of the KIA and MIA, followed by a rifle salute by the VFW firing squads from Rogersville, Bulls Gap and Church Hill.
Taps will be performed by Mary Ellen Broome.
In keeping with Rogersville tradition, following the Veterans Day ceremony Monday the Hawkins County Cattleman's Association will provide a free lunch to all area veterans at their headquarters on Stanley Valley Road near the Highway 11-W intersection.