Back home a week later, I went down to the basement and pulled out my box of old military stuff. I opened up the unit history and looked at a photograph of the four of us in my flight. Then I opened my logbook and found the entries for the summer of 1987. I remembered the gunnery flights to the ranges at Grafenwehr, Hohenfels, and Wildflecken, and the navigational flights through Bavaria. But there was no logged mission to the bridge.
And that was the point. The bridge itself would not have been worth any of our lives. But the resolve that the mission represented—that I saw in our young faces in our unit history photos—was where the value lay. I have to agree with those deep thinkers: In being prepared to fly that mission, we prevented it from having to be carried out. And that resolve, magnified by the efforts of so many throughout the NATO alliance, prevented the conflagration that would have been World War III.