RACINE — “I appreciate my time being in there.”
These are the words of Army Veteran Charlie Mugrage, who served in the military during one of America’s longest standing conflicts: The Cold War. At 44 years, the Cold War dates are generally accepted as the period from 1947-1991. And in the midst of this time line is when Mugrage enlisted in the Army. He graduated from Southern High School in 1970, and after working for a week on a tugboat he decided to go ahead and join the military.
“My draft number was 28, so I might as well just go in,” he said.
He began his basic training in Fort Knox, Ky., but after being told there were “13 too many” recruits, he others were transferred to Fort Campbell, Ky. Once he completed basic training, he was sent to Aberdeen, Md., to become a light vehicle mechanic. While there, he enlisted as a Jumbo 36K, or communication distributor.
From there, he was finally sent abroad to Frankfurt, Germany; specifically, his new home became a Nike Hercules missile site.
“Missile sites were quite something during the Cold War,” he said.
When Mugrage arrived on-site, he was informed that there were too many mechanics and he was transferred to a launching control area.
“The first time I ever saw a computer in my life was there,” he said.
He spent a couple of months in the Intelligence Fusion Center, where he was told that he and others would do on-the-job training and schooling for communications. Specifically, Mugrage’s job would be to authenticate messages before sending them onto the correct parties.
However, some medical necessity meant that he would be out of commission for a time. Once he recovered, he continued worked in communications, but with a different task: classified document carrier.
“They would handcuff a satchel to my wrist and I would leave our battery, go to all other batteries, and the only person who could unlock it was the last person I was going to see. Then my battery commander would unlock the satchel,” Mugrage said.
After his time in Germany, Mugrage returned to Fort Knox, where he became a company commander driver.
“Why they picked me, I had no idea,” he said.
However, before leaving Germany, Mugrage also received his top secret clearance and was eventually honorably discharged in 1974 at Fort Knox. From there, he continued to serve his country as a member of the Army National Guard in Marietta, became a member of the Air Defense Artillery Battery for three-and-a-half years and finished with the Army Corps of Engineers.
He said he’s proud to have served during the Cold War, but added that other Cold War veterans don’t get enough recognition.
“A lot of people don’t know a whole lot about it, or they don’t really want to recognize it,” he said. “A lot of people say … that it was never declared. Well, it was never declared, but they lost lives. There were a lot of lives that were lost. There was top secret clearance where they weren’t allowed to tell how many lives were lost. They’re just now starting to get the information.”
While as much conflict isn’t known as well, Mugrage said the hours put in by the military at the missile sites around Europe were intense.
“Our battery worked 24/7, seven days a week, and you had 80 who stayed on the missiles. And when they left another 80 came down, and we all lived in the same place about the size of (an office building) … so you can imagine.”
Currently, Mugrage, and other veterans, are hoping that Cold War veterans can receive the Cold War Victory Medal from the government. He said there are also veteran organizations that do not recognize Cold War veterans as having served during a time of conflict, and therefore they are not allowed to join every veteran organization despite their service.
He said that there are people in Washington, D.C., trying to get things done, but that nothing has been made official so far.
“The Cold War era is something that needs to be thought about,” he said. “But I wouldn’t change anything. If I was called today I’d go. I’d go right now.”
Currently Mugrage is a Racine resident and a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars 9053.
Reach Lindsay Kriz at 740-992-2155 EXT. 2555 or on Twitter @JournalistKriz.