Military Service

Prof. Robert B. Laughlin
Department of Physics
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305

View of the Schwäbisch Gmünd marktplatz in summer.

This is part of Prof. Laughlin's professional history.

Prof. Laughlin was drafted into the U.S. Army in the summer of 1972. He received basic training at Fort Ord, California, attended missile school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and then finished his tour of duty in the 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery, a Pershing missile unit in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany. He returned to civilian life in July 1974.

Prof. Laughlin's tour of duty occurred at the end of the Cold War, and so had a somewhat surreal quality, like the movie The Third Man. Schwäbisch Gmünd is a small town in Baden-Württemberg about 40 km east of Stuttgart. The people there speak an extreme dialect called Schwäbisch, but are otherwise easy to understand. The town is lovely, old and characteristically catholic. The town square sports cobblestone streets, freshly painted store fronts, rococo images and a fine medieval cathedral. The military installations, by contrast, sported trucks, guns, country-western music and nuclear missiles. Troops were housed in barracks built by the Nazi government during the Second World War and maintained even after the War by German taxes. Contrasts of this nature were constant and painful reminders of how horrible and serious the War had been. Adding to the strangeness was the increasing European exasperation with the Vietnam conflict, which was in full swing at the time.

Pershing missiles were eliminated from Europe by treaty in the 1980s. The last one was destroyed in July 1989. The facilities in which Prof. Laughlin was housed have since been decommissioned.

The Pershing was a truly fearsome weapon. Much information about it is classified, but a few facts are in the public domain. It was a portable version of the Redstone Rocket, the liquid-fuel vehicle that launched the first American astronauts into space. It was a solid-fuel nuclear missile about the length of a truck with a range of about 1000 km. It was driven out into secret field locations on tractors and deployed under camouflage. The warheads were housed separately and kept under secure guard. Direct orders from European theater operations were required to unlock them. The countdown to erection and launch would take about 10 minutes.

Further information about Pershing Missiles may be found here:

Mark Ives Web Site