When Word of a Miracle Arrives on the Seas

[OFB note: Last February 22, on the 30th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, we received an amazing note from a reader and patriot and serviceman, detailing an astounding narrative about how word of sports’ greatest moment was received by some men and women in uniform, far, far away from the continental U.S., back in the day. We knew immediately that we had to share it with you this February 22. So enjoy U.S. Army Captain Chris Brown’s re-telling of it here, as our honored guest blogger on this anniversary of the greatest day in American sports history.]

A native of Fairfax, I’m a Caps’ diehard and ever have been since the age of 4. That was the age when I attended my first Caps’ game at Capital Centre back in 1984. My father was, at the time, an Army doctor stationed at Walter Reed Medical Center. He and a bunch of Army buddies decided to get a block of tickets to a Caps/Oilers game (or so my dad says). I tagged along, and that’s when my love affair with the greatest sport on the planet began. I can vaguely remember bits of the game, but what stands out for me still was the sheer terror I experienced whenever the Caps would score a goal. The siren would go off, the red goal light would flash, and the crowd would erupt. I would try to pull my father’s leather jacket over my eyes in order to hide from the sound, which, of course, didn’t work.

Thankfully, though, I got over my fear and have been to countless Caps games over the years. I remember the 8-0 victory over the Penguins at Landover. I remember the Caps/Flyers tilt that set a record for penalty minutes (313 or something). I remember all the losses to the playoffs to the Penguins, Islanders, Rangers, etc. I remember the sheer joy of Joey Juneau’s OT goal against Buffalo, and I remember being at game 4 against Detroit and watching the Wings lift the Cup on our ice. I remember when Ovechkin had more than 4 power play goals in a season, but I digress . . . I remember all of it.

I’m now 30 years old and I followed my father’s footsteps into the U.S. Army. I’m currently stationed out at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, as a member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps. I still make sure to catch as much Caps’ action as I can (thank you, Slingbox!)

On this anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, I thought it would be important and fun to share a story about the effect of the game abroad, related to me by a family friend. Our friend, who happens to be a Ranger fan (nobody’s perfect), can absolutely vouch that the story is true. At the time, he was in the Navy and was attached to a naval carrier group that was located somewhere in the Gulf of Aiden off the Coast of Yemen. (He’s well into his fifties now.) If his memory serves him well, he was aboard the USS Coral Sea at the time.

In 1980, the Internet as we know it today, along with iPhones, email, etc., obviously did not exist. Sailors aboard ships had no easy way to find out news from back home; information was passed on to the ship’s captain, who would then pass it down to the rest of the ship. Of course, this was a terribly slow way to deliver information, especially when compared to the immediacy of today. Naturally, announcements about a hockey game were few and far between. Back in 1980, however, apparently the sailors aboard had some vague idea that the U.S. hockey team was playing the Soviets in a pivotal game, but they had no idea as to the score or the winner. So when that unlikely group of college kids shocked the Soviets, the sailors aboard had no idea that the U.S. had just shocked the world.

Not the aircraft involved.

As everyone well knows, the Miracle occurred at the height of the Cold War. And in places such as the Gulf of Aiden , it was not uncommon for American and Soviet forces to come across each other in international waters. For instance, Soviet reconnaissance planes would sometimes come across a U.S. carrier group, as each had the right to travel in international waters. Just to make sure there were no misunderstandings (keep in mind that it wouldn’t take much for a Cold war to become Hot), the U.S. carrier would scramble a jet to ‘escort’ the Soviet plane past our carriers.  The two planes would apparently establish some sort of contact, one would escort the other past the carrier group, and each went on their way. This was simply done to make sure that no funny business broke out.

Sure enough, a day or two after the Miracle on Ice, a Soviet patrol was spotted near the U.S. carrier. Like many times before, an American jet was scrambled for escort purposes. Except this time something extraordinary happened. As my friend told me, when the American pilot contacted his Soviet counterpart, the Russian pilot responded by congratulating the Americans for their hockey team’s victory over the Soviets in the Olympics. When the American pilot landed, he passed on word to his countrymen that we  had won, and the ship erupted in cheer. And to think, how the ship found out that we had beaten the Soviets. From a Soviet fighter pilot!

The two mortal enemies, the proverbial ‘tips of the spears,’ meeting eyeball to eyeball over international waters during the height of the Cold War, not long after the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan. And the Soviet pilot congratulated the Americans for their victory! Give credit to the Soviet pilot, obviously a hockey fan, for displaying a small measure of humanity, grace, and sportsmanship during what must have been a difficult time for the Soviets (as if it were ever easy or enjoyable). It’s amazing that the result of a simple hockey game may have thawed the ice between two mortal enemies, if only for a fleeting second.

So when you remember 1980, please keep this story in mind. The victory by the Americans at Lake Placid was no doubt a Miracle on Ice. But it inspired a much smaller miracle, far removed from the mountains of upstate New York . It inspired a ship full of Americans who were proudly serving their country. It demonstrated that, despite the intense hatred on both sides, our Soviet rivals weren’t all the monsters they were made out to be. And we have a plucky bunch of college kids, with a gruff head coach, to thank for it.

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