Fighting the Cold War by John R. Galvin



Gen. Galvin’s highly interesting and informative autobiography, Fighting the Cold War: A Soldier’s Memoir (University Press of Kentucky, 517 pp., $39.95), easily could have been titled Winning the Cold War. While serving as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1987-1992, Gen. Galvin proved himself to be a master of high-stakes diplomacy with the Soviet Union’s leaders as they were coming to terms with the breakup of the Warsaw Pact, as well as the Soviet Union itself.

The book’s Foreword by retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus describes the high regard and respect that he and other military professionals and statesmen had for Gen. Galvin and his 40-plus years of service to his country. The son of an Irish bricklayer from a small town outside Boston, Jack Galvin—who died last September—loved working with a plasterer’s trowel alongside his father. One day, much to his dismay, his father forbid him to touch those tools, insisting that Jack attend college.

So he enrolled in college, but soon dropped out to become an artist and laborer. To avoid the draft in 1948, Galvin joined the Massachusetts National Guard and trained as a medic. He was selected for U.S Military Academy, and accepted the challenge, graduating in 1954. What followed were diverse assignments that preceded his service in Vietnam: Ranger training; leading a platoon  in Puerto Rico; serving with the U. S. Army Mission in Colombia, at Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne Div., and at Fort Knox Armor School; and as an English instructor at West Point. While working on a Ph. D. in English, Galvin opted to forgo that goal to attend Command and Staff College at Leavenworth prior to leaving for Vietnam.

Gen. Galvin’s first of two of tours in the Vietnam War was from 1966-67. He was a major initially assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Div. at Phuoc Vinh as operations officer. Less than two months later, he was replaced because he and the Brigade CO were “not a good combination.” He was transferred to U.S. Army Headquarters in Saigon as a logistics officer.

What could have been a setback to Galvin’s promising military career soon turned around. After much persistence and arm twisting, Galvin wrangled an assignment at the 1st Cavalry Div. headquarters at An Khe, where he worked in the G-3 shop, Division Operations.

His next assignment was at the Pentagon, as the Military Assistant to the  Secretary of the Army. This is where Galvin really came into his own and proved that he had the right stuff to become a general. In 1969, Lt. Col. Galvin started his second tour in Vietnam, again with the 1st Cav. He went on to command the 1st Bn., 8th Cavalry, 1st Brigade  near the Cambodian Border.

From there, Galvin was given increasingly more challenging assignments. He was the commanding general of the 24th Infantry Div. at Ft. Stewart, Georgia. Then he was given command of the VII Corps in Germany, the largest unit in the U. S. Army at the time. He achieved his fourth star and was assigned to Southern Command in the Panama Canal Zone from 1985-87.


Gen. Galvin when he commanded U.S. and NATO forces in Europe (Galvin family photo)

The zenith of Gen. Galvin’s career came with his appointment as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, from 1987-92. He saw the Warsaw Pact dissolve, the Berlin Wall come down, and the Soviet Union’s sphere of domination begin to fragment. Gen. Galvin was the head of NATO, dealing with Mikhail Gorbachev and his high-ranking Russian generals, determined to facilitate that historical transformation without a war breaking out. He was the right general in the right place at the right time.

Upon his retirement, Gen. Galvin became dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He wrote three other books: The Minute Men: The First Fight; Air Assault: The Development of Airmobile Warfare; and Three Men of Boston: Leadership and Conflict at the Start of the American Revolution.

Those who knew Gen. Galvin have described him as a teacher, scholar, diplomat, statesman, and  warrior. He has even been called a true Cold War hero. President George H. W. Bush said: “General Gavin is one of the greatest soldiers this country has ever had.” This reviewer is in total agreement.

—James P. Coan