By KEVIN HOWE
Of all the "forgotten" veterans of the nation's wars, the Cold War veteran may rank at the top.
From the end of World War II in 1945 until the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in 1989, American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines found themselves in an edgy game of brinkmanship on what became known as the Iron Curtain. They manned guard posts, monitored radio traffic and patrolled the edges of hostile air space and oceans.
Aside from the approximately 100,000 U.S. troops who were killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars during that time, hundreds of others lost their lives in airplanes shot down, submarines sunk, border skirmishes and guerrilla wars fought in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Among those casualties were at least a half-dozen alumni of the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey. The last was Army Maj. Arthur Nicholson, whose job was to observe Soviet occupation forces in East Germany. He was shot and killed by a Soviet soldier on March 24, 1985.
No Cold War campaign medal was ever authorized, but in 1998 Congress authorized Cold War Recognition Certificates to members of the armed forces and federal civilian employees who served in the period from Sept. 2, 1945, to Dec. 26, 1991.
The school paid tribute to its fallen and recalled the service of thousands of other alumni in a wreath-laying ceremony across from DLI's Berlin Wall Memorial. The ceremony was held a day before today's formal Veterans Day holiday.
Army Col. Sue Ann Sandusky, commandant of DLI, noted at the ceremony that in addition to those Cold War casualties, more than 20 of the school's alumni have been killed in action in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in terrorist bombings and other actions.
When Armistice Day was declared a federal holiday in 1938, she said, it was intended to honor those who served in the "War to End All Wars," World War I. While that phrase may seem naive and ironic in that a year later the Second World War broke out in Europe, Sandusky said, "There was nothing naive, ironic or bitter" about the service of Americans in uniform, then or now. "The young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardmen serving today are worthy successors of the generations that went before them."
Citing last week's murderous mass shootings at Fort Hood, Sandusky said the military will get through that painful event "because of our values: duty, honor, loyalty, respect, selfless service and courage.
"We're in the eighth year of a war," she said. "The strains, resilience and strength of the military are on display."
The memorial consists of three upright concrete panels of the 93-mile Berlin Wall, donated to DLI by Walter Scurei, a Berlin native. As a child, Scurei witnessed refugees fleeing the rampaging Red Army after the city fell in World War II, as well as the Berlin Airlift that broke the 1948 Soviet land blockade of West Berlin.
Scurei came to the United States in 1952, became an American citizen, served in the Air Force and became a successful businessman. Scurei found the concrete slabs in a warehouse in Phoenix, where the previous owners fell behind on their rent, and bought them. He had them set up at his home. In 2000, Skip Johnson, an inspector general at DLI, came to Phoenix to visit his sister, saw the slabs, and heard from Scurei that he was interested in donating the artifacts to an educational institution. Johnson said when he got back to the Presidio he talked the idea up with then-commandant Col. Kevin Rice and set the wheels in motion to have the slabs brought from Arizona.
Sandusky said it was appropriate to honor veterans "in the shadow of that grim symbol that toppled 20 years ago."
Kevin Howe can be reached at 646-4416 or email@example.com.
Reprinted with permission.
Photos by Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven L. Shepard