A Soldier’s Life During the Confusion and Chaos of the Cold War

Paul Smith

In 1952, 65 years ago, after graduating college only months earlier, Peter Race was pulled into an entirely new and frightening world.

The Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950. Peter Race was a sophomore in college, and was exempt from the draft for the next two years. Although Peter knew many peers and friends who were drafted as the war continued to escalate, he remembers, “It never crossed my mind I would attempt to say no.”

Peter attempted to go into officer training, but was summarily rejected as a result of his glasses. He was drafted into the Army in 1952 at the age of 21, and brought into an eight week basic training program. Although he would not be infantry, the chances were high that he would be shipped to Korea.

The war became very real for Peter as he continued his training. He vividly remembers having to crawl across a firing range as live machine gun rounds whizzed over him. However, basic training was not all hardships for Peter: “You’re suddenly away from home, and you’re lonely, and friendships form very quickly, and some of them last a lifetime.” Peter met another recruit in a similar situation as himself, and the two stayed in contact throughout and after the war.

Peter was first in Fort Devens, Massachusetts and later his unit was transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey. His unit was small, comprised of only 16 men, and it was not long before the Korean War reared its head once again. It had been decided that 15 members of the unit would be shipped to Korea and one would be sent to Germany. The one who would go to Germany was to be completely random, none of the men could influence the decision.

By total chance, it was Peter who was selected to go to Germany. While the rest of his unit traveled to Korea, he was sent to Frankfurt, Germany, to face the mounting pressure of the USSR in Europe. Peter was part of a medical battalion attached to the defense force in West Germany. All eyes were on the ‘Iron Curtain,’ and Peter remembers that the question of Soviet invasion “was not if, but when.”

Fortunately, the Soviets never did make an attack on western Europe. At the time Peter had also been able to bring his recently wed wife with him overseas. The two lived in an apartment on a street that had been almost totally destroyed by Ally bombing in World War II.

Despite the fear caused by the Cold War, the “military wasn’t all bad.” As a result of his location in Germany, Peter was able to make short vacations with his wife around the country. Since the Army allowed him to travel at a significant discount, Peter was able to make a 10 day trip from Germany down through Italy and back for what would now be only $2,100. Peter was also a member of a volleyball team and a softball, both of which traveled around bases in Europe during competitions and tournaments.

Peter’s service ended quietly two years after he had been drafted, the Korean War had ended the previous year, and yet the Cold War was only just beginning. Reflecting on the past, Peter noted, “[The Korean War] was something that we probably should not have been involved in, but we were a part of the United Nations.” He does not want anyone to have to experience the fear of war, and he saw the Vietnam War as particularly horrendous and “soul-scarring.” He does not want the US to be involved with the Middle East at all either.

Despite the hardships of his service, Peter sees his service being beneficial to his life. The discipline he was taught in training and what he learned about his own country continues to impact him even now. To many people war is tragic, violent, and chaotic; for Peter Race however, life in the military was a unique and positive experience.