Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Congress December 15 approved the Cold War Service Medal, as part of the Fiscal Year 2012 defense budget, which awaits the signature of President Barack H. Obama Jr.
“People who don’t think veterans of the Cold War era deserve this medal simply lack an adequate understanding of communism,” said Cork Graham, who served as a CIA paramilitary in Central America in the 1980s.
From 1946 to 1991, thousands of American service men and women were killed, wounded or went missing in operations separate and distinct from either the Korean War or the Vietnam War.
More than 20 million former and current soldiers, pilots, sailors, intelligence officers and Foreign Service agents will finally receive recognition for their service.
Military historian and collector Eric J. Andringa said good precedents exist for the CWSM, including the Army of Occupation Medal given to servicemen participating in the occupation of Germany and Japan after 1946 and the Navy Occupation Service Medal given to Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel who served in West Berlin from the end of World War II to 1990.
Past presidents and congresses awarded medals to military personnel deployed abroad during times of relative peace because they knew full well the contribution of these servicemen and women to American security, he said.
“They recognized the threat presented by the Soviet Union and understood the necessity of stopping communist hegemony in Europe,” said Andringa, who deployed to Iraq as the historian for the 34th Infantry Division’s command group from 2009 to 2010.
“People often say the United States won the Cold War without firing a shot, but there were always live fire incidents. The decade before the wall came down was intense,” he said.
“Ronald Reagan and the zero-defect army in West Berlin were there with a purpose – to make Russia see how capable the U.S. was,” he said.
“This effort took a toll on the troops there. There were lots of divorces,” he said. “The situation was so volatile, these guys were under tremendous emotional stress. You can’t downplay their sacrifice. It’s not asking a lot to acknowledge their service.”
Graham, who was jailed in Vietnam from June 1983 to May 1984, when his treasure hunting party was mistaken for spies, said West Berlin was not the only area of high tensions during the period.
“There was no single conflict. No final victory to be had. Only small but significant victories in El Salvador, Cuba, Indo-China and Soviet satellite nations,” said Graham.
“The Cold War was a war of abatement,” he said.
The authorization of the CWSM has been so drawn out because of pervasive reluctance to acknowledge the reality of the Domino Theory, said Graham.
“Many Americans, historians and public officials deny that Communist expansion presented a real military threat to the United States,” he said.
Exactly who will receive the award has yet to be determined by the Secretary of Defense, but the medal itself will most likely be designed by the Institute of Heraldry in Fort Belvoir, Va.