Michael James Riles' interview for the Veterans History Project at Atlanta History Center

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Catalog number: VIS 201.0722
In this interview, Michael Riles recalls his service in the United States Army during the Cold War. He describes growing up in Chicago where his neighbors were recent immigrants from Soviet bloc countries. He learned to speak and understand Russian by translating for neighborhood children and accompanying them on various outings to acclimate them to American customs. After graduating with a history degree from Northeastern Illinois University, he worked in sales briefly before deciding to enlist in the Army. His Russian language skills determined his placement in an Army Field Station in Berlin and he describes his work there, listening to Soviet communications. He recalls many incidents that occurred during his tour of duty, including watching German police handle an elderly Nazi sympathizer on public transport; pranks that U.S., British, and Soviet soldiers played on each other at the Berlin Wall; and preparing for the prospect of a Soviet attack when Cold War tensions were particularly high in 1979. He recalls extending his term of enlistment for a year to provide intelligence services during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. He describes his post-military careers and reflects on his service.
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