Why Native vets should support a Europe Defense Service Medal
Joe Martin 9/12/2006
Native American veterans are aware the United States government has historically created and awarded congressionally authorized military medals for service. These medals represent individual participation in theaters of operations for defense of the geographical area in which the action occurred. This honor is recognizable on many of the veterans who served in the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard when they wear the colorful medals or ribbons on their regalia or vests at powwows and gatherings.
Some veterans may wear only one medal: The Good Conduct Medal, from their respective service branch, or the National Defense Service Medal. And then other veterans may go unnoticed and almost invisible wearing no medal at all on their chest – though they have received their honorable discharge from the service.
The veterans who have no service medal to wear at all they may be able to only receive from the government a substitute- a bland impersonal civilian recognition certificate. As a matter of fact, no civilian certificate in our country’s military history has ever been substituted for a military award before. Some veterans refuse the certificate as an insult, but it is touted as impressive and worthy of the paper it is printed on by the government.
So a commemorative phenomenon is born. This is where a veteran can be directed by the government and the Department of Defense to go out and purchase a commemorative medal to honor themselves. But if a veteran buys one of these, and then tries to wear one on their old military uniform on Veterans Day or Memorial Day and the like, stiff fines or even jail time can result via the US Code. This is unsatisfactory.
Some other veterans also know that benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Vet Centers are entitlements usually based on service and the time of service, as well as on what type of military awards an individual received. Too many know what it is like to get services when they are required to travel long distances, or to go to mobile outreach, if and when it arrives on the reservation. Some find out too late when they attempt to access Vet Center services for service-connected psychological readjustment counseling for, say, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, By law, those without a correct theater service medal or other award are denied service. VA hospitals or clinics also can deny help because an individual’s service was at the wrong time in military history. That is wrong.
The government’s failure to award a theater service medal for the defense of Europe during the Cold War years of 1945-91 causes these injustices. This has happened by an apparent oversight due to the fact that the Cold War victory in Europe occurred at about the same time as the first Persian Gulf War was fought.
By awarding a Europe Defense Service Medal, the government will be doing the right thing and taking a strong step toward equalizing services for all military veterans.
Some people misinterpret the Cold War in Europe as a time of peace. However it was an actual war pitting US-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allied military forces against the numerically superior USSR-Warsaw Pact military forces. Forty-six years in duration, the Cold War in Europe stands as the longest undeclared war in US military history occurring outside America’s borders.
Out of all ethnicities, Native Americans serve in the military at the highest per capita rate. They were stationed in, deployed to, and actively involved in operations, exercises, and activities in the European Theater of Operations. Yet no wearable recognizable uniform recognition has ever been given for their service. This shows dishonor toward veterans who put their life on the line and their lives on hold when America needed them the most. The least America can do is to act on this situation and recognize the efforts of those individuals for their service overseas on the front and on the flanks in Cold War Europe.
Considering their outstanding level of service, it stands to reason at least some Native Americans were killed, wounded or lost in-theater during the Cold War in Europe. At least 62 Americans were Killed in Action, 100’s were Wounded in Action, 18 are still Missing in Action, and an estimated 5000 died in military operations, exercises, missions, and support activities. The Cold War in Europe was a real war, fought with real weapons, with real ammunition. An actual military theater of operations existed. Five million US military members teamed up with NATO allied nations military forces to prevent the USSR-Warsaw Pact military forces from invading Western Europe.
Veterans were in harm’s way by being conventional deterrence forces in a situation that carried the prospect of nuclear war. There are cases of US aircraft and their crews being shot down on missions across Eastern European borders. US military personnel were also subject to terrorist actions from the Marxist Red Army Faction and other similar pre-9/11 organizations. On the front, on the north flank, on the south flank, on land, in the air, at sea and under the sea border clashes and hostile encounters with opposing military forces occurred. It appears the government has conveniently forgotten all of this sacrifice.
All service in Cold War Europe was not combative, just the same as in other theaters of operations where service medals were awarded. In the preparation for combat, in the standing of guard, in the manning of outposts on traditional invasion routes into Europe from the East along the borders of the Soviet states, and other areas, many US military veterans suffered and endured the cold and heat in silence. While separated from their families, friends and loved ones, they were ordered by their military superiors to provide peace, freedom, and stability for 400-plus million European citizens.
They did their duty.
Many remember the alerts and not knowing if it was the real event they had trained for. However they stood their posts, ready to fulfill their responsibility to protect Europe. If it were to have been the real thing they were ready to serve and fight, to be, in essence, a speed bump to slow down the Soviet-Warsaw Pact Divisions until additional help could arrive to repel the invaders. By protecting the people of Europe, they protected the American people as well.
Former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized the importance of the Cold War in Europe when he stated, “There is but one way to avoid total war – that is to win the Cold War.”
US-NATO allied military forces won the Cold War in Europe on December 25, 1991 and the USSR and the Warsaw Pact collapsed and ceased to exist. Many of these same former enemy countries have since joined NATO as allied nations and embrace NATO’s ideals. Meanwhile, our veterans who participated in the Cold War in Europe go without.
Now is the time for the government to act and come to recognize the solid and honest efforts of all those quiet American cold warriors that protected the Europeans. US military veterans who served in the Cold War deserve a medal to wear on their regalia and vests, to be treated equal. They have already run the gauntlet by serving honorably in the military, in their war, their theatre of operations. It is time.
About the author: Joe Martin, Metis, is the national commander of the Europe Defense Veterans of America and keeper of the Europe Defense Veterans of America Cold Warriors Honors Blanket. He is a PFC USMC Infantry 2nd Marine Division FMF Cold War European Theater Veteran 1978-79-80. The Europe Defense Veterans of America is based in Lake Placid, New York. Their website is: http://www.edva.us. To support their efforts and sign an online petition, go to: http://www.petitiononline.com/edsm/petition.html