Rumsfeld Honors Vets, Salvadoran Contributions to Terror War
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador, Nov. 12, 2004 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld thanked El Salvador for its contributions in the war on terror and honored veterans of all nations and of all wars who "have stood together in the fight for freedom."
Rumsfeld delivered his message Nov. 11 during the fourth annual Veterans Day ceremony at the U.S. Embassy here. The visit is the first of several the secretary will make this week to thank U.S. allies in Central America for their support in Southwest Asia before attending the 6th Defense Ministerial of the Americas conference in Quito, Ecuador.
During the Veterans Day ceremony, Rumsfeld laid a wreath on a monument to U.S. personnel, including about 20 servicemembers, killed during El Salvador's bloody civil war. Some 75,000 people died during the conflict, which extended from 1979 to 1992.
"The people of the United States take special pride at having stood with you through those tough times -- and they were tough," Rumsfeld told U.S. veterans living in El Salvador and U.S. servicemembers assigned to the embassy here, as well as other embassy staff, who attended the ceremony.
Rumsfeld said he expects the people of both the United States and El Salvador to look back with a similar pride "on the roles that we are now playing in helping the Iraqis on their path to freedom and a more peaceful future."
The people of Iraq are learning today what both El Salvador and the United States learned during their own struggles for independence and freedom, Rumsfeld said. "It's not easy -- it never is -- and it requires patience and has costs."
He called El Salvador "a strong ally of the global war on terror and a nation that understands well the human struggle for liberty and democracy."
Rumsfeld praised El Salvador for quickly offering support and friendship following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and for its role in the coalition in Iraq.
He noted the heroism Salvadoran soldiers have demonstrated in Iraq, from a 16- member squad that wielded knives after running out of ammunition to fight off Iraqi criminals before coalition soldiers came to their aid to six members of the "Batallon Cuscatlan" to whom he will present Bronze Star Medals during a ceremony here today.
But El Salvador's and other coalition members' contributions to the war on terror have not been without cost, Rumsfeld acknowledged. He paid tribute to Pvt. Natividad Mendez, a Salvadoran soldier who died in the knife-fighting incident, as well as all other veterans throughout history who have sacrificed for freedom.
Rumsfeld gave a special tribute to the servicemembers who continue this fight on the front lines today.
"Freedom is again under attack by those who seek to rule by the few or by the dictator," he said. "Again, that challenge is being met by patriots from our two countries, and from many other countries, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and everywhere that liberty is at stake.
"To them and to the veterans here and to veterans of every war on whose shoulders they stand -- the living, the missing, the departed -- our deepest gratitude for their service and for their sacrifice," he said.
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Annette Casto, a member of the Marine Detachment at the embassy, said she felt proud to be recognized along with her fellow servicemembers during the ceremony. "It's nice to know we're appreciated, and not just in our own country," she said. "It's great."
"It makes me feel really good," agreed U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class James Reddinger, resident Seabee at the embassy.
Leopoldo Samayoa Linares, a Savadoran citizen who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1957 to 1961, said he felt honored to be recognized for his service. "I'm very proud," he said, noting that serving in the U.S. military was always one of his goals.
An estimated 800 Salvadoran nationals currently serve in the U.S. military, officials said.
Following visits to other U.S. allies in Central America, Rumsfeld will join leaders from 33 other countries for a Defense Ministerial of the Americas conference. He told reporters traveling with him the meeting is aimed at strengthening the inter-American security system.
Since 1995, the sessions have provided a forum for discussions among defense ministers from throughout the Western Hemisphere. Rumsfeld attended the last conference two years ago in Santiago, Chile, where the focus was largely on terrorism and peacekeeping operations.
This session will focus on four primary topics: regional security-cooperation arrangements; military law enforcement roles, responsibilities and coordination; regional peacekeeping capabilities; and science and technology cooperation.
Rumsfeld told reporters he looks forward to working with other conference participants as they tackle common threats, particularly terrorism and narcotics trafficking. He said these threats transcend national borders and must be addressed collectively.
"The kinds of challenges and threats that we face are not restricted to single countries," he said. "They cross borders. In fact, they take advantage of borders."