John Athanasen

WE CAME WITHIN MINUTES OF A NUCLEAR WAR

I was a paratrooper in the 506th of the 101st Airborne Division from 1961 to 1964.

My war was the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was discharged before the 101st went to Vietnam. We trained all the time when I was in the army. The experience has stayed with me because we came within minutes of a nuclear war with the Russians. But I think the war we are in now is just as bad or worse because these people come wherever and kill innocents just because they are not like them. It’s not a uniformed army that you can face on a battlefield. We were always on alert and some bad things happened, like the time we broke up a huge riot when a black man enrolled at the University of Mississippi. I tried to re-enlist but my wife said, “no” putting an end to my military career. She and my child were much more important than the army.

I was born in 1940 and was just a little boy when WW2 was going on but my older brother was in the war and I used to talk to some of his friends after the war. I am an amateur historian and I also go to Colleville sur Mer with two of my best friends who live in Lille, France. My friend has adopted 13 American graves and I have been to the cemetery to put flowers on their graves.

This is a picture of WWII re-enactors. These guys were the coolest. They guy next to me opened my bottle with a bayonet. They are the Pugnacious Eagles and are re-enactors and really cool bunch of guys who spoke little English. The other picture shows my visit to Bastogne where the Battle of the Bulge took place in December 1944.

I usually visit in August but this year they are coming to visit me in the states. Next year I will be visiting them again in August and for two of the weeks I will be in Normandy. We visit all of the places where that great crusade started Utah Beach, Point du Hoc and Omaha. I have not been to the other beaches yet but we will go there in 2017.

The young people of today need to learn what happened in Europe in the 1940’s and what it took to free a whole continent.

~ John Athanasen, Veteran

Veteran Stories Collected by Jenny La Sala www.JennyLasala.com