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Archive for Thursday, November 11, 2004

VFW hopes book raises awareness of Cold War vets

November 11, 2004

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— They died at muddy checkpoints along the Iron Curtain, in reconnaissance planes shot down off the coast of China, on islands in the Caribbean.

For them, the Cold War was no bloodless ideological standoff between superpowers.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars lists at least 382 American military and intelligence personnel killed by hostile forces in the decades-long confrontation with communism.

Their names, and the stories of those for whom the Cold War turned hot, are found in a new book published earlier this fall by the Kansas City-based VFW.

"I would hope that people will start viewing the Cold War in its proper context," said Richard Kolb, who compiled "Cold War Clashes: Confronting Communism, 1945-1991." "I think there's a lot of confusion as to precisely what the Cold War was, and hopefully the book will help define that."

Not all the deaths were in combat. Kolb's book also recognizes those slain by communist-backed groups or killed by civilians in combat areas.

"A lot of people talk about terror as though it's something we're confronting for the first time, but it's not," Kolb said. "In Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, American soldiers were a prime target of the Baader-Meinhof Gang." The gang was a left-wing revolutionary terrorist group active in Germany in the 1960s and '70s.

Time for a memorial

The VFW also endorses the creation of a national Cold War monument and has backed legislative efforts to create a comprehensive Cold War medal. It has not amended its bylaws to admit all Cold War veterans, although some qualify under current guidelines.

"That's my ultimate goal, for a memorial," Kolb said. "Once you put up a memorial in a prominent place, then it's going to get people thinking. Then they'll take an interest in the Cold War -- but if it doesn't have the names, then it's missing something."

Timeline of warfare

The book places the Cold War's start in 1945, before the end of World War II, and lists its first casualties as Army Lts. Phil Brewer and Sid Coulson, pilots killed in an inadvertent skirmish with Soviet forces at Nis, Yugoslavia. It ends with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.








The Korean and Vietnam wars are not dealt with in the book, although actions falling outside the war years in those regions are listed.

"All of our focus is on the individual soldier, airman, sailor and Marine," Kolb said. "That has not been done before. The other books seem to deal mainly with the arms race and the diplomatic end of the conflict, but there has been very little focus put on the person in uniform."

Kolb, who is the editor of VFW magazine, used articles from that publication as the framework of the book and fleshed it out with letters and interviews.

Horror stories

Some of the stories are of combat -- like Pfc. David Bibee's account of a North Korean ambush along the Demilitarized Zone on Nov. 2, 1966: "I was blown airborne, some 40 feet down the side of the hill we were on. I was shocked and dazed by the blast of the grenade that landed beside me. Then I heard more grenades going off, and then automatic weapons were firing all around."

Bibee, 17 at the time of the attack, was the only survivor out of eight in his patrol. He was hit in the leg and shoulder by shrapnel, but survived by playing dead -- even when a North Korean soldier pulled his watch off.

Other stories, like that of infantryman Christopher Gifford, recount the atmosphere of foreboding along the Iron Curtain during the Cold War years, when NATO expected an invasion of Western Europe.

"Many of us felt we were cannon fodder if war ever erupted because of the disparity in numbers," wrote Gifford, who served in Germany from 1979 to 1982. "U.S. divisions in Germany were overwhelmingly outgunned. Still, American troops on the ground caused the fall of the Communist East after 45 years."

Lost in history?

But with China a major U.S. trade partner, several former Warsaw Pact members in NATO and Russia a key ally in the war on terror, Kolb believes the Cold War is being played down for the sake of diplomacy.

"I don't think the two are mutually exclusive," he said. "We can have good relations with Russia, but that doesn't preclude us recognizing the service and sacrifices of Cold War veterans."

Still, he said, "I don't think you're going to see any enthusiasm among government officials for a Cold War memorial."

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