Display Portrays Gen. Shali -- Chairman, "Soldier First"
By Tech. Sgt. Lee Roberts, USAF
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 1998 Retired Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili was portrayed at the Pentagon Monday as a brilliant, straightforward and unpretentious man who has always been more proud of the olive drab uniform he wore than the shiny stars that were pinned on him.
"That's because in his 39-year Army career he always thought of himself foremost as a soldier," said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen at an unveiling ceremony of a display exhibiting the 13th chairman's portrait, awards and decorations, and other historical photos.
Cohen said Shalikashvili's high achievements earned him a place of honor in the Chairmen's Corridor alongside the likes of General of the Army Omar N. Bradley, Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor and the three former chairmen at the ceremony -- Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, Gen. David C. Jones and Gen. Colin L. Powell.
The secretary said the display would remind people that as the world was his canvas, Shalikashvili's "preferred tool was a brush and not a hammer."
"With bold strokes he composed a landscape of expanding peace and freedom and helped to bring forth the contours of a new Europe, forging 'Partnership for Peace' and enabling the enlargement of NATO. His tactical and strategic excellence were shown in bold, primary colors from operations in Haiti to Iraq, perhaps most vividly in Bosnia," Cohen said.
Cohen also said Shalikashvili "cared passionately for the welfare for those under his command -- knowing the concerns of all our young soldiers because he was one of them."
Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Shalikashvili did care deeply for soldiers, but his legacy reached far beyond his military exploits. "He is living proof that every American, regardless of birth or circumstances, has the chance to achieve their dreams," Shelton said.
Shalikashvili, a Polish-born immigrant, came to America in 1952. The 16-year-old refugee didn't have much money and learned to speak English watching John Wayne movies in his adopted hometown of Peoria, Ill. "He was determined to succeed, willing to work hard and had enormous faith in America," Shelton said.
With his parents and sister, he marched down to the courthouse in Peoria in May 1958 to become U.S. citizens. A few months later that year, he graduated from college and was drafted into the Army. He received a commission through Officer Candidate School in 1959.
Through the years the general commanded an artillery battalion and brigade; an infantry division; and the joint task force that carried out Operation Provide Comfort, the Kurdish relief effort in 1991. On Oct. 25, 1993, he became the 13th chairman, the nation's highest-ranking military officer and principal military adviser to the president, the secretary of defense and the National Security Council. Shalikashvili retired Sept. 30, 1997.
Thanking those present at the unveiling ceremony, Shalikashvili said he wished the chairmen's exhibits could portray the contributions of people who had made his tour successful -- starting with the members of the Joint Staff.
"I think all of the past chairmen here today would agree with me that at the very top of the list of folks who made every chairman successful are the men and women in uniform who had to carry out our orders, our directives, our deployments, and who have done that in such rich measure and grand style," he said. "So all us chairmen here thank you for having put these displays here."
[Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lee Roberts is assigned to the Joint Staff Public Affairs Office.]