After rising as a teacher through the Washoe County school system (including a stint at the late, lamented Central Junior High School) and a further career at Truckee Meadows Community College, science instructor Jim Conkey retired and wrote a book, A Cold War Story, in part about a nuclear incident that may have happened in Morocco. The newly released novel is available at Sundance Books.
What’s the book about?
It goes back toward the end of the Cold War when I was in North Africa as a naval officer at a naval air station in Morocco. And I was there for two years. And the naval air station there was in support of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. My position with this four-man team was to deal with explosive ordnance of all different kinds. … My team was used as a precursor to the present SEAL [sea, air, land special forces] team program in the Navy. And so we were doing things like reconnaissance and surveillance and being used in different ways that ordnance disposal people had never been used before. We were asked to do a number of things with the Foreign Legion. We were asked to do a number of things in relation to trying to deal with Arab terrorists that were kicking out the French from Morocco, or French Morocco at the time. It was right at the point where the French were leaving Morocco, but they were still in Algeria, and they had three years to go before they were going to pull us out of Algeria. So we’d gotten involved in some of those activities that had to do with helping the Moroccan government but also trying to help the French government and also do some of the things that we were asked to do that were in our line of training.
So that’s the setting.
What’s the book about?
The book is about Burt Turner, and he’s a naval officer. Actually, it’s about me and all the different missions that I was involved with and the people I was involved with at the naval air station who were pilots and navy nurses and so forth. I tried not to write it just for military people. I worked hard to do that. … There were these three or four missions.
Tell me about the nuclear incident.
This is at the time that the Strategic Air Command had a ready alert system where the airplane would have to get off the ground within 15 minutes of notification that they were to go into Russia. At these advanced bases, they had between 12 and 20 of these B-47 bombers capable of getting into the air with their nuclear weapons within 15 minutes. And they would drill. … What happened was there were two terrorists that had rocket-propelled grenade missiles, and they launched them through a hole in the peripheral fence as these bombers were practicing to take off. One of the rockets hit one of the airplanes and caused it to catch on fire. … Because the Air Force did not have the capability of neutralizing a nuclear weapon under these conditions, the Air Force asked the Navy team to come from the naval air station … to help them.
If it’s about you, why didn’t you write it as a memoir instead of a novel.
Because there’s things in there that I felt were considered to be classified, and it’d be better to do it as historical fiction, a novel.