It’s Veteran’s Day, 11 November 2009.
Two days ago, one of my buddies, a former paratrooper and combat engineer, remarked that he was mildly perturbed (not his choice of words) that so many people were busily taking credit for the fall of the Berlin Wall (9 November 1989 – twenty years ago), and the Iron Curtain it represented. He remembered spending three years buried up to his fourth point of contact in snow, helping tankers from the two border US Cavalry Regiments improve their fighting positions along the East German and Czechoslovakian borders. His thinking was simple – the Evil Empire failed for many reasons, but none of those things could have happened if there hadn’t been hundreds of thousands of American servicemen who deterred their every advance, all over the world, for over forty years.
There were wars in Korea and Viet Nam. There were pseudo-wars in dozens of other places. And there were tens of thousands of American servicemen stationed at flash points all over the world – standing watch at some lonely outpost – for what was then over 40 years.
For that time, all of West Germany was an armed camp. Two US Armored Cavalry Regiments stood that watch on the East German and Czech borders for forty years. I was one of those Cavalrymen for most of seven years. Those Cavalry Regiments stood that border for 40 years – fully loaded for war. At any moment, every single trooper knew he would likely be the first to find out about the start of the next world war. He’d have a ringside seat for the best, albeit short, view of a great conflagration when it started. It was his job to raise the alarm and do whatever he could to slow them down. Slow them maybe just a few minutes – and hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines would roll to emergency deployment positions – all in very well practiced and extraordinarily deadly ballet. In just a few minutes, two Army Corps with as many as six heavy Army Divisions, several Marine Expeditionary Forces, uncounted Fighter and Bomber Wings, and the crews of scores of Navy warships at sea and under it would be ready for an all out continental war in Europe.
Back in the US, Airborne Divisions would mobilize in hours, several more heavy Divisions would pull out their cold weather bags and marshal for movement to European war stock sites, and Carrier Groups would set best courses and flank speed to war stations. But they, and their brothers in arms on the ground in Europe knew – it would be too late. The next war would be “come as you are”, and the guys on the ground in Europe would live or die with what they had and could carry.
And they stood there in Europe, just like they did all over the world.
All on hair triggers to rush into the gap to stop the Evil Empire.
All very aware they were horribly outnumbered and alone.
For over forty years.
And now its another 20 years since the fall of the Evil Empire. There are more enemies, there have been more wars, and more pseudo-wars. More flash points around the world. More soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines – standing watch on some distant lonely outpost. Not to enslave anyone – not for the glory of digging a hole to crap in – and certainly not for the money.
For another twenty years.
I heard a Viet Nam veteran say he’d asked his father (a WW II vet) for advice before he deployed to Viet Nam. His father’s advice was, “You don’t have to stand tall over there. But you do have to stand.”
I believe the Evil Empire failed because the United States succeeded.
And I believe the United States has succeeded, in part, because its often forgotten warriors are willing to stand that post.
In some hell-hole outpost.
As long as our country asks them to.
LTC, US Army (Retired)