U.S. Air Guardsmen, Bosnians Restore Monument to Americans Killed in Sarajevo
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2008 Next to a dirt road cut into the hillside of Mount Igman, southwest of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, U.S. Air National Guard and Bosnian troops recently repaired a monument marking the location where three American diplomats and a French soldier lost their lives nearly 13 years ago.
Air Force Master Sgt. Robert A. Gordon and Tech. Sgt. Shaun Blische of the Maryland Air National Guard’s 175th Civil Engineer Squadron, restore a monument at Mount Igman, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The monument memorializes three American diplomats and their French driver, who were killed at the site in 1995. The memorial is being restored as part of a humanitarian civic action project under the National Guard’s State Partnership Program. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. David D. Speicher
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The monument was built in 1997, and over the years has suffered erosion and weather damage.
The Sarajevo Canton Memorial Fund maintains the memorial and many others throughout the country. The organization recently approached the Defense Ministry for help restoring it, and U.S. and host-nation officials made the project a joint venture, officials at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo said.
“[The host nation’s] request for assistance is a true testament of their commitment to remembering those Americans who lost their lives here,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. John C. Eisberg, an official at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo.
From 1992 to 1995, the war-torn country saw more than 95,000 people killed and another 2 million displaced. With the fall of communism in the former Yugoslavian federation, bloodshed and conflict broke out among the region’s three ethnically based political parties. The Bosniaks and Croats declared their independence, while the Serbs favored staying with the federation.
U.S. ground forces weren’t involved in the war, but the three Americans honored by the memorial served as special U.S. Defense Department envoys, negotiating a peace agreement. They died on Aug. 19, 1995, when the rain-soaked road they were traveling on collapsed under their vehicle, driven by the French soldier, and subsequently rolled down a 500-meter slope.
Every year since, on the anniversary of their deaths, U.S. and Bosnian officials, as well as people from the nearby community, meet at the memorial to celebrate the lives of Joseph John Kruzel, deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy, Robert Frasure, special American envoy to the former Yugoslavia, and Air Force Col. Sam Nelson Drew, national security council advisor. All three men are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
“They died tragically, but were peacekeepers working to end a horrible war,” Eisberg said. “The Bosnians’ effort to remember them is such a great testimony of the difference these men made here.”
Refurbishing the monument fell to the Maryland Air National Guardsmen from the 175th Civil Engineer Squadron, which deployed to Sarajevo on July 13 to 27 as part of the state’s joint-partnership program with Bosnia. Most of the unit refurbished a school, while a team of 10 Air Guardsmen and seven Bosnian troops worked to restore the monument, said the squadron’s commander, Air Force Lt. Col. John P. McVicker.
The site is about 150 by 75 feet. The airmen and Bosnian troops worked together excavating, clearing brush and debris, placing ballistic rocks for stabilization, and preparing the area for concrete and paver stones, McVicker said.
A lot of pride went into the airmen’s work on the memorial, not only because of the men honored by it but also because of the warm reception they received from the local people, McVicker said.
“We’ve never had such a warm reception for our work,” he said. “Restoring the monument is very important to the [people] here, because for the Bosnians, these four men helped bring an end to their war. This monument is a symbol to Bosnia of the peace and democracy they enjoy today.”
The Air Guardsmen have since redeployed to Maryland. They were replaced by California’s 163rd Civil Engineering Squadron, which finished work on the monument July 24.