A father's untold story

Local author brings his dad's Cold War dispatches to life in new book, 'Missileman'

For nearly 15 years, John Clauson just tried to forget.

It was the story his father first revealed to him during a ride down Interstate 95 in 1989.

“My dad points and goes, ‘Johnny, 10 men sat in a basement there at a YMCA, and they decided how nuclear missiles were going to be deployed,’” he recalled.

One of those 10, he said, was him.

“The car just about went off the road,” he said.

Over the next three days, Wallace Clauson revealed detail after detail about his role in the Cold War and his job with IBM’s Federal Systems Group, where he took orders from the Department of Defense as a mathematical savant. That was a far cry from what John had grown up believing; that his father was merely an IBM salesman.

His son, however, had trouble grappling with the specter of what his father told him.

And for the next 15 years, he kept it to himself. With three children, ages 9, 7, and 5 at the time, living in a new home in New Jersey, he was “just too busy.” It wasn’t the kind of topic, he said, to just casually research. 

So, as he said, he tried to forget. But one day, he couldn’t get one of the drawers to his father’s old workbench to close. Something, he found, was blocking it. His dad had attached dozens of business cards to the bottom side of the drawer, and on them, terms like “command control center,” and all with some sort of connection to the work his father had spoke of.

“He didn’t want his story to be forgotten,” he said.

By 2004, the time had come to dive in deeper.

“Now that I’m an empty nester, all the kids are out of the house, I’m going to research this story, to either to find out if it was true, or bogus, I had to settle my mind,” he said. “Well, it was all true.”

And it all started with the cards.

“Each one of those cards, I drilled down to find out the history of it, and they all came out with something to do with the Cold War,” he said.

Now, the retired medical device executive is telling the story to any who wish to read it, in the form of a new book: ‘Missileman: The Secret Life of Cold War Engineer Wallace Clauson,” through WNB Books.

“It’s been a labor of love to finish this,” he said of the 320-page book.

His hope is that the book brings a newfound appreciation to those that had to “live in the shadows” during the Cold War.

“Besides my parents, there were thousands of people in the Cold War that had to live in the shadows, so we’re going to celebrate the shadowy figures,” he said. It’s not that they wanted to be shadows, but the amount of security and detail, people literally sacrificed their lives to help keep the world a safer place,” he said.

Clauson held a book signing and reading last month at Magnolia’s Bookstore, and he said he hopes to do a “fair amount” of public speaking on the topic.

“Potentially history is going to have to be adjusted,” he said.

To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com. To learn more about ‘Missileman,’ visit wndbooks.wnd.com/missileman/.