Tuesday, August 26, 2008

By Bruce Coulter
Tue Aug 26, 2008, 04:26 PM EDT

Burlington -

Hours after Russian troops responded to Georgia’s attempt to repatriate – by force – the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, political observers pondered the possibility of a second Cold War.

In fact, even after a truce – brokered by France – was signed, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has shown little interest in pulling back troops beyond a snail’s pace.

Adding fuel to the Cold War fires was Poland’s agreement allowing the United States to stage a missile interceptor base to protect U.S. allies from rogue states. The agreement prompted a warning from Russian Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, who said Poland was opening itself to attack.

If Russia’s actions and words sound familiar, they should – at least to anyone over the age of 40.

The first Cold War began Sept. 2, 1945, almost as soon as the final curtain closed on World War II. For the next 46 years, the former Soviet Union and the United States eyed each other cautiously, all the while playing a game of cat and mouse. The Cold War era officially ended Dec. 26, 1991.

Sean Eagan, the recently elected chairman of the American Cold War Veterans (ACWV), said in the four-plus decades of the Cold War, approximately 382 American service members lost their lives in hostile actions.

He believes that number is much higher. It does not, he said, include the 31 Americans killed during the Berlin Airlift, or the losses aboard the USS Liberty, when 34 servicemen were killed and 173 wounded during an attack by Israeli forces, as well as numerous other incidents that took place during Cold War.

“We had a lot of people serve in a lot of dangerous places other than Korea and Vietnam,” he said. “There were 40 aircraft shot down and 116 soldiers missing in action from the Cold War.”

The ACWV was organized a year ago this month and membership, Eagan said, is increasing as more veterans become aware of the group.

“We’re new and we’re growing,” he said.

Despite being in its infancy, ACWV wasted little time approaching members of Congress to act on its behalf.

The group is urging Congress to honor the men and women who served during the Cold War with the issuance of a Cold War Service Medal.

Last year, U. S. Sen. Hillary Clinton introduced Senate Bill S. 1097, the Cold War Medal Act of 2007, which, if passed, would be awarded to servicemen and women who served between Sept. 2, 1945 and Dec. 26, 1991, and received an honorable discharge from the military.

Sens. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. and Mary Landrieu, D-La., Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have signed on as cosponsors.

A previous bill was passed in the Senate and House in 2001, but lawmakers left issuance of the medal up to the Department of Defense, which has steadfastly refused to issue such a medal. Rather, DOD opted to issue a Cold War Certificate, which will no longer be issued at the end of the year.

U. S. Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia last year introduced H.R. 1900 – a bill to expand the retirement and disability pension benefits of people who have received an expeditionary medal in operations that weren’t covered in a VA-recognized wartime period. It’s a bill supported by ACWV.

“Too often, when these young men and women return home from service, we do not honor their bravery with the full measure of respect and gratitude that it deserves,” said Rahall in a statement. “I believe we should take this opportunity to help ensure that our veterans, regardless of the timeframe of their service, receive appropriate recognition and benefits.”

A second bill by Rahall, H.R. 1901, would extend pension benefits to veterans who have served in Korea, Lebanon, Grenada, and Panama.

As the law is written now, said Eagan, some veterans aren’t considered as having served during a wartime period.

The bill, which is attached to H.R. 5658, The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), said Eagan, has a good chance to pass.

All that is left is for the Senate to pass its version of the NDAA. However, the Senate is not expected to act on the legislation until after the November election, when Democrats hope to increase their margins in the Senate and House and hopefully, have a Democrat in the White House.

ACWV is also asking Congress to grandfather the award of the Army’s Combat Action Badge to World War II, noting that many Army veterans have served in combat, but were not eligible for the Combat Infantry or Combat Medic badges.

Ultimately, Eagan and the ACWV hope to educate people on what the cold war was.

“There were a lot of sacrifices made and people served a lot of hazardous duty during that time,” he said. “I think it’s overlooked.”

For more information, visit www.americancoldwarvets.org.

Bruce Coulter is the editor of the Burlington Union and a retired, disabled veteran. He may be reached at 978-371-5775, or by e-mail at bcoulter@cnc.com.