Russell E. Hershey,
INT: That's remarkable.
GRED: it is remarkable. It's a remarkable weapon system. It has if you bring in heavy gun-laying radar, it's vulnerable and you take some losses. We took some losses at Linebacker 2 over Hanoi. We took losses the first night, we took losses the second night. A lot of people said 'stop, stop, stop! We're taking losses.' This was war. This was real war. We were trying to do something that was worthy of the strategic forces and we didn't stop, and thank goodness. We ran 'em out of missiles, and then we had a free ride. Then we ran 'em out of fighters, then we had air superiority. Now we are.. no challenge in the air, and then you can do what you wanna do with an enemy, but we stopped.
INT: But how did you view.. I mean, I was thinking, that's a fascinating answer and I think that will certainly be.. ..(inaudible).. (laugh) but in terms of the twenty four hour alerts, the planes flying out, going to fail-safe, loaded with hydrogen bombs, twenty four hours a day, 16 planes in the air at various times. Was that.. certainly for the crews it's not something you do lightly, is it. Why were those steps deemed necessary?
GRED: You're talking about airborne alert. we never had airborne alert during the time I was the commander of SAC. That was earlier. That was during the time of real serious tension that was brought on by other circumstances. Airborne alert is the is the ultimate way to keep your force credible and protected but it's.. so expensive that it almost dazzles the mind. Expensive in terms of fuel and crews, expensive terms of hazard, because you've got a lot of weapons airborne. You know, we had an accident -- we put a weapon weapons into the sea off Balmores you remember that? Uh fortunately, then we put one on the ice cap but nothing more came of it but something could've. It was a very hazardous operation and very expensive. I'm glad we didn't do that very long. the best way to maintain an alert was to have your crews sit on alert with the aircraft in what we called a 'cocked' position so that you could launch the airplane within seven or eight, ten minutes, and that's what we did routinely and that is demanding but it's not like airborne alert. But airborne alert was always there and it was always an option if the threat situation was such that you thought it was virile enough that you had to get some airplanes airborne. It also sends quite a signal of determination and capability. And you're much more ready from that posture to launch an attack.
INT: As you referred to it, sir, the 1966 Balmores incident, what sort of repercussions did that have in the Air Force?
GRED: Well, nobody wants a nuclear incident! if you ask me you know, what are you most pleased about during your tour as a SAC commander in second Air Force or at Strategic Air Command, (laugh) it's because I never had a nuclear.. accident or incident! maybe there are other things, but that one is certainly high on my mind. That was a bad one. Anything having to do with nuclear weapons is bad, but I would say that they went in the ocean. The extent to which it posed a hazard in my judgement is negligible. Our ambassador in Madrid at that time was Duke and he did a remarkable thing. He took his family down to Balmores and went swimming, you know, and I thought that was pretty heady stuff. I cheer him for that. But we've all had to recover. We've had some nuclear weapons in fires that on the ground that have not resulted in a nuclear explosion and that I think is a tribute to our responsibility in handing them, in the custody and the operations and it's a tribute to the technology and skill of our laboratories and our technicians in fabricating 'em. We've done a remarkable job in fabricating a very reliable series of nuclear weapons and I think we've done a remarkable job in custody and care and attention to 'em. And then yet, if you wanna hear one I was the commander of Second Air Force and SAC during what we call the 'flower child' period. it maybe have a different words that it's called in different countries, but we had a lot of people who lived the biggest phony in the world, to me, was if it feels good, do it, you know? And a lot of people early on took that as a.. rubric that they could live by. It felt good so they'd do it. A lot of them came into SAC and a lot of them had responsibilities toward nuclear weapons and you would be amazed at how studied and how careful and how solemn and how prudent they became as they got closer and closer to that nuclear weapon. And they would say 'tell me again how to do it. Let me read the checklist one more time. Let me see that again.' You know? they the reasonableness came out when the when the chips were down.
INT: Good answer. A big question I suppose is that.. what did you expect to happen if a nuclear war was going to take place?
GRED: What did I expect to happen in nuclear war? I don't know that I ever thought about it personally. I thought about it analytically. A lot. Everything.. every weapon we put down, we tried to draw an analysis of what would happen with that weapon. Now, a lot of people look at Chernobyl and they see awesome destruction of a whole area and that's.. remember, that's a ground explosion, or that's a ground incident. Nuclear explosions poison the ground and we didn't lay the weapons down that way. We used airborsts. (sic) Airbursts do not have that same effect. Now, I don't know what the Soviets would've done but ground bursts, you know, can poison the ground for generations. The half-life of some of that those effects is decades and decades. But we analyzed every one of our attacks that we had planned and what it would do and what we expected to be the result. The one thing you cannot calculate is the direction of the wind, at that time. You can say this is where the prevailing wind is in that season, but it might not have happened. But we looked at it, we looked at it in a limited sense, we looked at it in a major sense and we.. the only thing I can say is 'god-awful', you know? It's inconceivable how bad it was and that's exactly what we wanted it to be. We didn't want it to be easy. We didn't want it to be cream puff. We wanted it to be so god awful that if they made the same calculations as we did, they would come to the same conclusion we would and in words that General Power used one time with Congress -- in a while that I'll never forget 'cos I was there when he said it -- and one of the senators says 'General Power, what is it you do out at Omaha?' and he wound up by saying 'Senator, I make sure that every day in the Kremlin when they have their threat briefing they conclude it by saying "not today, comrade"'. And that's you didn't want it to be easy. You didn't want it to be impotent. You wanted it to be god-awful and it is, and it would've been.
INT: Excellent answer. Final couple of questions. General.. LeMay was once heard to say 'things would be easier if we had Khrushchev as Secretary of Defense instead of McNamara.' Have you heard that story before?
GRED: I have heard so many stories about General LeMay that I'm reminded of we have a famous baseball wag that gets credited with all sorts of things and he once is knownto have said, you know, 'I was so busy saying all that I didn't have time to remember that I said all that'. But I'm not sure that General LeMay said that but if he did, it was in pique or it was in fun or it was in jest and he uh I would say would recant because (laugh) of the different in the political ideology but, you know, our government in this country is designed to be responsible, not necessarily to be efficient and General LeMay was looking for efficiency all the time. He often said to us -- and this I know he said 'cos I heard him say this - he said, 'you know, I hate all hired headquarters. They get in my way.' And he said (laugh) 'I even hate to hire headquarters that I'm the head of' you know! (laugh) So yeah, if he said it, I'm sure he said it in jest or in frustration or in pique because there was somebody keeping him from doing something that he thought he should do. General LeMay was irrepressible. I told you earlier, we always sort of knew where he was coming from. General LeMay would go after a housing for the troops in his command with a fervor and with a determination that hell has never seen the like of and he'd get it! He would get housing for his people when nobody else had housing, you know? And he thought that the people who live their war plan and who practiced every day like they were gonna fight, he thought they should be promoted if they did very well, and he couldn't get promotion, so he promoted 'em! We had an incident one time when he just promoted a captain. They said 'you can't do that'. Well, he did and eventually installed in SAC what he called a 'spot promotion system'. If you just.. reached a certain level of extreme effectiveness, you'd be promoted.