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