David H. Hackworth
May 16, 1995


From Greece in 1945 to Bosnia 50 years later, the White House, Congress and the Pentagon have too often deceived the American people by sending our warriors to "secret wars" and then pretending they never happened.

El Salvador is a classic example. During that 12-year blood bath, the U.S. provided over 5,000 advisors to the Salvadoran government. Most of these warriors were Green Berets and helicopter crewmen who ended up downrange from enemy fire, where the bullets and the buck always stop with a hard thump.

While 15 of our warriors were killed there and dozens more wounded, none, believe it or not, got it on the battlefield because the Pentagon had declared El Salvador was not a "combat zone." Our warriors there were ordered not to become involved in combat operations of any kind, despite the fact that they were drawing combat pay -- one more "secret war" shrouded in government double-speak.

But on the killing field, where truth is absolute and warriors die absolutely, more than 10,000 leftist guerrillas were engaged in a hot war with 40,000 government troops. U.S. troops frequently mixed it up with the guerrillas while teaching government forces the tricks of their killing trade.

Retired U.S. Army Gen. Joe Stringham recently said that in 1963 his Green Berets in Vietnam were ordered "not to fire upon or engage a hostile force unless subjected to their fire."

So in the early days of our clandestine operations there, the enemy always got the first shot. Downright hospitable of our state and national security "best and brightest," who sat far away behind their safe desks, calling the shots and hiding the truth.

This charade blew up in LBJ and his conspirators' faces when they reinforced their failure there with a half million U.S. troops. Finally, after almost two decades of lies and almost 60,000 U.S. dead, the American people demanded the plug be pulled on that doomed misadventure.

In the 1980s, a similar policy of deception prevailed in El Salvador. Stringham says his advisors there were ordered "to refrain from being fired upon." Easier said than done, because those who were ordered to "refrain," although officially not there, still too often wound up on stretchers and in body bags.

The Salvadoran guerrillas knew our government was lying to its citizens, as it did in Vietnam. The game plan was to copy the Viet Cong's proven blueprint: blow Americans away to expose Washington's hidden agenda.

For 12 years our warriors were blasted by Soviet provided weapons from AK-47 submachine guns to SAM-7 surface-to-air missiles.

In 1989, Special Forces Sgt. Pisina took a slug in the leg during a fire fight. He was ordered to say he shot himself with his own weapon.

In the same year, U.S. Army nurse Capt. Nelly Aleman-Guzman was wounded, but she was denied a Purple Heart at that time because of "political concerns."

In 1987, Sgt. Gregory Fronius was killed when the unit he advised was attacked. Over 70 enemy and friendly dead littered the field after the fight. Eyewitnesses praised Fronius' heroism and recommended him for a valor award. The American ambassador, Edwin Corr, said the critics of American policy in El Salvador would find in Fronius' combat award "fresh grist" to protest the war or would misconstrue "his training role as involvement in combat." His posthumous valor award was denied.

The Cold War and its campaign in El Salvador are both long over, and our side won. El Salvador is at last at peace and our "secret" role there is common knowledge. The peace in El Salvador was in large part made possible by the sacrifices of brave warriors who have yet to be recognized for their dedication and valor. Honorable soldiers should not pay the price for dishonorable policies which intentionally deceive the American people.

It's long past time to set the record straight on El Salvador by acknowledging and honoring the loyal and brave service of our warriors, both the living and the dead.

Also, an addendum to the Contract with America should be to start following the Constitution and stop sending our warriors to "secret wars" that don't have the assent and complete support of the American people.