2 July 1997
BREAKING THE TRUST WITH OUR TRUST TROOPERS
Fifty years ago, Harry Truman formed a special unit -- TRIESTE UNITED STATES TROOPS -- and assigned it a difficult task: stopping Tito's Red Army from seizing the city of Trieste in order to annex it as well as a big chunk of northern Italy to the then budding Evil Empire.
The initial 5,000 TRUST Troopers, who replaced the famous 88th "Blue Devil" Division along part of the often bloody Morgan Line, were hand picked from almost every unit in Italy. Their razor-sharp fighting edge, the 351st Infantry Regiment, was deployed on the Italian - Yugoslavian border and squared off against the Communists in the first live-fire encounters of the cold war.
Tito's Reds hovered at the brink, just short of war. They threatened, harassed and, on one occasion, tried to move a large force through the American lines. The men of TRUST held their positions like a stone wall, never giving an inch.
"War and peace at times hung in the balance," wrote General Dwight Eisenhower concerning the high stake mission the soldiers of TRUST had been assigned.
TRUST Troopers dodged bullets, walked through minefields and countered Yugoslavian ambushes. Patrols clashed, bullets sang, booby traps exploded and the call of "Medic" sounded in the hills overlooking the strategic port city of Trieste.
Between 1945 and 1954, several dozen 88th Division TRUST soldiers and airmen were killed by the Reds, while dozens more were wounded and captured.
Behind their protective shield, the wounds of World War II slowly healed and democracy returned to a long tormented people. In 1954, Trieste was reunited with Italy. Mission accomplished, TRUST was disbanded, and the 351st Regimental Combat Team came home.
Many of the combat actions were poorly reported, lost over the passage of time or over shadowed by other cold war hot spots in Greece, Berlin and in Korea. The TRUST Troopers' heroism not only went unnoticed by the American public but also, reprehensibly, by the senior brass who failed a basic leadership principal: always reward your warriors for a job well done.
These men were never recognized by their army, their government or their citizens. They remain unsung soldiers by everybody except the people of Trieste, who to this day still consider them to be their liberators and saviors.
Meanwhile, we continue to ignore these heroes, now in their late 60s and early 70s. Even though soldiers were killed and wounded, not one Purple Heart has been awarded. Even though fire-fights occurred, not one Combat Infantryman's Badge has been presented. Even though these troopers were on a war footing for seven critical years, not one campaign medal has been awarded. Even the Occupation Medal wasn't granted, while, ironically, naval personnel off shore supporting the TRUST mission received this and other awards.
Now almost 50 years later, many of these old soldiers are treated like lepers and denied membership in organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars because they don't have a scrap of ribbon to prove they stood tall. And while these veterans await their final taps, our Army continues to ignore those who won the first major campaign of the Cold War.
Hundreds of letters have been written asking everyone from the president and vice president to dozens of senators and members of the House of Representative to help honor these brave Cold War veterans. Most of the requests have been ignored or they've received the same canned pass-the-buck response: "Your request has been forwarded to the Department of the Army" -- a total exercise in futility.
Gore didn't bother to reply to my letter. Yet I would have received letters of thanks aplenty from him and Clinton had I sent a 25 buck political contribution.
Today's politicians may have their priorities, but looking after veterans sure doesn't seem very high on their list. What else is new? A hundred years ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote:
"For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' Chuck him out, the brute!
But it's Saviour of 'is country' when the guns begin to shoot;
An' it's 'Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' anything you please;'
An' Tommy ain't a bloomin' fool you bet that Tommy sees!"
And what these old TRUST Troopers are seeing and feeling is a crying shame.