Commemorating Cold War Combat Casualties

VFW Magazine, November/December 2009 | Go to article overview

Commemorating Cold War Combat Casualties


'People don't really understand and know that the Cold War was a real war with real casualties. Real people died."

- LornaBourg,sisterofa 1958 KIA, Fort Myers, Va., Military Post Chapel, April 2, 1997

By The Editors

Some 382 Americans were killed as a result of direct enemy action during the Cold War - those military actions between 1945 and 1991 beyond the scope of the Korean and Vietnam wars. This tally includes only those documented military personnel or government operatives killed by communists. In some operations, other servicemen were killed accidentally or in "friendly-fire" incidents.

Still others, Air Force and Navy aviators, were lost in operational flights directed at the enemy, but died in aircraft accidents. Hence they are not part of this figure. If the cause of a downed aircraft is inconclusive* the crew members are nonetheless included.

Moreover, many thousands of GIs were killed on maneuvers, training for potential major confrontations with communist forces. During the Korean and Vietnam war eras, tens of thousands of Americans in uniform died outside the war zones from non-hostile causes: 2,329 in Germany alone between 1965 and 1975, for example. This fatal casualty count is for the hostile deaths the U.S. public has so long been led to believe never occurred.

A word on the enemy: The nation's Cold War adversaries included conventional forces of the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Yugoslavia and Cuba. But they also encompassed a host of Third World Marxist guerrilla and terrorist movements that targeted Americans. If a GI or CIA operative was killed by a group or individual espousing the communist ideology, he is among those counted.

This is VFW's tribute to America's Cold War killed in action, one that the nation as a whole has far too long neglected to offer. No doubt, due to the secretive nature of the Cold War, some American hostile deaths are missing.

Memorials and Monuments

A grateful nation pays tribute to its warriors by respecting their service in some permanent fashion. Traditionally, this has taken the form of memorials, monuments and museums.

Politics should not interfere with such commemoration, but it has in the case of the Cold War, our country's longest-running conflict. "In modern-day America, there is too much fashionable tampering with authentic tradition," wrote Willie Morris, former editor of Harpers.

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