Korea and World War III - Almost

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG)  |  By Jerald Drobesh, US AIR FORCE
  Share this pic with friends!

McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.

SACRAMENTO REGION, CA (MPG) - Recently there has been high tension and talks of a possible confrontation and even a nuclear war with North Korea.  But this is not the first time we have been in this position with them. 

In the early 1970s, as a Captain in the US Air Force, I was assigned to Kunsan Air Force Base on the west coast of South Korea. This was an old US Air Force Base from the Korean War days, in the 1950s. At that time, I was the Air Force Chief of Aircraft Maintenance at the base, and part of my job was to prepare our assigned F-4 Fighter/Bombers for emergency launch with nuclear weapons, if the situation required it.

The F-4 twin jet Fighter/ Bomber was, at the time, was one of the fastest and best aircraft ever built.  My job required that I have a Top Secret Security Clearance, because I was required to brief the Wing Commander on the status of all our assigned aircraft, and sit in on all Top Secret briefings about the status of the North Korean armed forces and their preparations for War.  I remember well, as if it was yesterday. It was one of the most important briefings I had ever attended.  It was the early 1970s, and by the time the briefing was over, I knew that we could be at war at any minute.  

The North Korean forces, according to the briefing, were moving their fighters, bombers, tanks, military equipment, and soldiers up close to the border between North and South Korea. This would put them just minutes flying time from our aircraft at Kunsan AFB. This had never happened before and I remember thinking, at the time, that our base may not exist after the next few days, or sooner. 

That night I walked down to the flight line where our F-4 Fighter/Bombers were stationed and ready for war. My job was to check with the airmen assigned to repair and prepare the aircraft, and to have them all ready for launch if the orders were given by Headquarters. We were an inch away from World War III and I could feel it in the air. 

That night, I talked to my maintenance airmen assigned to the aircraft. They didn’t know, at the time, how close we were to war and I couldn’t tell them.  There wasn’t a need at that time for them to know, but they were ready. All the F-4 aircraft that were flyable were loaded with bombs and ready for immediate takeoff to their assigned targets.  I remember thinking that night on the flightline that this could be it.   

I enjoyed my job and all the assigned men were great to work with.  Being that I once flew jets myself in the Air Force, I knew how the pilots must have felt - that they may never see their families again - if we went to war.  This was the real world and possibly the end of our beautiful planet as we knew it.  I had a difficult time sleeping that night.  It’s hard to tell someone who hasn’t been stationed on the front lines with nuclear weapons involved what it feels like.  But that’s what we were trained for - and we all knew what was at stake.  

Fortunately, we all survived or I wouldn’t be writing this article.  For some reason the North Koreans began to remove their jets, tanks, equipment, and troops back from the border, and I never heard why.  At that time, Chinese and Russian troops were supporting the North Korean communist troops and maybe their leaders realized that once a nuclear war started in Korea that it could speed to their countries and it wouldn’t stop until everything was gone.    

We may never know what happened, but events in today’s news are a reminder to me of that time when I was there, and I saw how close we came. I believe that cooler heads in China, Russia, and North Korea prevailed.  They knew we had a very large number of nuclear weapons and would use them if threatened, but China and Russia had them as well.  

I believe the fact that we did have nuclear weapons and advanced aircraft to deliver them was possibly the reason why we didn’t go to war.  What’s interesting to me is that at that time, and even now, the world didn’t know how close we came to World War III, but I was there!        

May GOD continue to bless this beautiful planet and let’s do everything we can to keep it special and alive!                         

Former Captain Jerald Drobesh US AIR FORCE stationed at Mather Air Force Base in the 1970s before retirement. Now living in Rancho Cordova, CA.