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The Passing of General Vernon Walters: A Homeland Original

Thursday, 21 February 2002 12:00 AM

In post-9/11 America, we need to note the passing of a great "homeland" American. Retired Lt. Gen. Vernon A. Walters, who died at his home in Palm Beach this month at 85, and will be missed by all of us. He dedicated his life to maintaining our way of life and will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Lt. Gen. Vernon A. Walters served his country for more than half a century as a military officer and diplomat. He went from an Army private to a three-star general and carried out numerous missions on behalf of the six U.S. presidents he served.

He served as deputy director of the CIA, ambassador-at-large, permanent representative to the U.N. and ambassador to Germany. Gen. Walters received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and numerous other awards and decorations for his military and diplomatic service. He wrote the books "Silent Missions" (1978) and "The Wall Falls" (1994). He spoke eight languages.

Gen. Vernon Walters, a 35-year U.S. Army veteran, did me the honor of writing a forward to my military guide book when he found out it was a book to help young Americans decide on a branch of service.

He wrote the foreword in 1998: "... In a global sense, the military is a good career choice because it is fulfilling. ... [T]hey provide you with the ability to protect the things you believe in and preserve and defend your way of life, offering security for your children's future. You do that in a very direct and immediate way. You are called upon to sacrifice and you are called upon to take risks. It is a special type of people who are willing to be called upon to sacrifice and risk, who will keep the world and this country free."

I remember him best for his great sense of humor and humanity. Walters teased me about my own choice of military duty in the U.S. Coast Guard.

He told a great story about a translating experience:

"Once, with Gen. Charles De Gaulle, I didn't realize that he spoke English, and I began, during a translation session, to make comments to Gen. Eisenhower, such as 'I don't think that he wants to do it, even though he [De Gaulle] says yes' and 'He says no, but if you push him a little harder he'll do it.'

"Finally, Gen. De Gaulle tapped me on the shoulder and said in English, 'Walters, you did a good job.' That's when I learned never to tamper with translations."

Once, in a quiet moment, he relayed that he had seen a nuclear bomb test from a distance – and knew that the Soviets had seen what he had seen in their military hierarchy. He reflected that it was a defining moment for both sides, knowing that neither, in truth, wanted to deploy such a weapon of mass destruction.

I once asked Gen. Walters who he thought was the most effective president out of those he served. Without hesitation he said, "Reagan – he won the Cold War."

The general went on to say that it was within Reagan's first days that he decided he was going to bring an end to the Cold War in the interest of world peace.

After being told in a top U.S. military command briefing that the Russians had more missiles, tanks, troops and ships, Reagan asked what we had more of. The answer was money. Reagan said, "Then that's how we'll beat them" – and we did.

But the Cold War was truly won by the likes of Gen. Vernon Walters, behind the scenes, living in the shadows and burdened with the knowledge that comes with the territory.

Not just a good American – but a great American, who was dedicated to this country he loved so fiercely. We should all take a moment to remember him.

Vernon Walters' important role in this nation's history reminds us of the noble passage to our identity, which was created by the people like him who forge our memory with honor, duty and integrity, and to whom we shall be forever in debt for their courage and sacrifice.

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In post-9/11 America, we need to note the passing of a great homeland American. Retired Lt. Gen. Vernon A. Walters, who died at his home in Palm Beach this month at 85, and will be missed by all of us. He dedicated his life to maintaining our way of life and will be laid...
The,Passing,General,Vernon,Walters:,Homeland,Original
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2002-00-21
Thursday, 21 February 2002 12:00 AM
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