An Ahwatukee teen recently earned first place in the 2017 Phoenix Veterans Day Parade essay contest for his composition about the Cold War and his grandfather’s service during that politically charged era.
Catholic Prep junior Ethan Brown was among more than 200 students who entered the essay contest, writing to the theme “Silent Sacrifice: Honoring Our Cold War Veterans.”
This is the fourth year in a row that Seton students have either won or placed in the essay contest, which is open to Maricopa County high school students.
The essays were judged on creative writing, grammar, originality, content and theme focus. The top three finishers receive cash prizes courtesy of Durant’s Restaurant and a ride in the Phoenix Veterans Day parade. Brown’s English teacher, Jessica Breen, also will receive a $150 gift card for use in her classroom.
Brown described the Cold War as a tense, 46-year-long standoff between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union. He personalized his essay by recounting the experiences of his grandfather, retired Air Force Master Sgt. Paul G. Agne.
“Everything my grandpa did in his military career was designed to prepare him for full-scale nuclear war,” Brown stated. Agne, who enlisted right out of high school, was stationed at Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson in 1980 when he was deployed to Turkey.
Seton Principal Victor Serna said, “We are proud of Ethan for earning first place in the Veterans Day Parade essay competition. Ethan, as well as those students who have done so well in previous competitions, is a great example of how we value and honor our veterans here at Seton Catholic Preparatory.”
Cold War “duck and cover” drills at elementary schools were a constant reminder of imminent threat.
Here is his essay:
One of the tensest eras of American history was built not on what happened, but on what didn’t happen. It was an era where there were no direct conflicts between the two enemies. An era where there were no formal shots fired. An era where we protected ourselves against hypotheticals instead of actualities. This was the Cold War, a 46-year standoff between two superpowers. My grandfather is a Cold War Era veteran.
My grandpa, Msgt. Paul G Agne, USAF Ret., enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school in 1971, serving over 22 years. When he enlisted, Vietnam, a proxy war between the U.S. and Soviet Union, was already going on. Everything my grandpa did in his military career was designed to prepare him for full-scale nuclear war.
He was stationed at Davis Monthan in Tucson until 1980 when he was deployed to Turkey to support anticommunism in the Middle East. For the safety of my mom and grandma he went alone, leaving his family for a year.
Turkey was a dangerous country, with bombings and violence, but the Americans were there to support the Turks against the USSR. It took an amazing amount of courage to leave everything behind in order to protect the world from the Soviet threat, but like all veterans, he sacrificed because of his love for our country.
My grandpa said that serving in the Cold War was difficult in spite of not being a “hot war.” A majority of his time was spent knowing there was a real nuclear threat, tensions rising constantly, but he had to stay strong to take care of his family. Those in the military waited anxiously to see if the USSR would act, if a missile was headed their way or global war was approaching. It was a stressful time watching and waiting to see what happened.
My grandpa said one of the toughest parts was the effect on his family. The school my mom went to on base was kept on alert, just like the soldiers. They had nuclear drills just like we have fire drills today. The windows of her elementary school had heavy drapes as protection against nuclear fallout, and they practiced drills, hiding under desks with the drapes shut tight.
Fortunately, all the preparation for a catastrophic war was for a war that never happened. On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. December 26, 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved. The Cold War had ended.
However, in some ways the Cold War and its veterans have been lost to recent memory. There was no parade for the soldiers when the war ended. There is no Cold War medal for the veterans. They are the silent heroes of a terrifying era in American history. The debt of gratitude we owe them for their sacrifices is indescribable. They are the heroes who stood ready at the watch, preventing the war that never happened.