Although Tarnished Brass is a work of fiction, it is based on my memories of the brutal civil war fought in the small Central American country of El Salvador from 1980-1992.
United States involvement in that conflict was principally focused on training support to the Salvadoran military. In a departure from US policy in Vietnam, American military advisers were prohibited from accompanying Salvadoran forces during combat operations. Their role was solely to train the ESAF [El Salvador Armed Forces] and change the way it prosecuted the war. Of course, in spite of these restrictions, the Operations and Training Teams (OPATTs) assigned to Salvadoran Infantry Battalions often found themselves in harms way.
Reports of fighting involving US troops, however, was a closely guarded secret. It would not be until 1996, four years after the peace accords were signed, that the twenty-one American service members killed in El Salvador were finally recognized.
Their headstone in Arlington National Cemetery does not contain their names. It simply states… El Salvador 1981-1992. Blessed are the peacemakers. In sacred memory of those who died to bring hope and peace.
Of course, I was not acquainted with everyone who died in the war, but I did have a personal and professional relationship with one of the deceased. Lieutenant Colonel James M. Basile, US Air Force, served as deputy commander of the US MilGroup, San Salvador. He was killed in a helicopter crash on July 16, 1987, at age forty-three.
Official recognition of his service to country and that of the other twenty individuals helps to heal old wounds. William G. Walker, the former US Ambassador to El Salvador (1988-1992), best phrased that sentiment when he spoke to those assembled at the cemetery — For too long, we have failed to recognize the contributions, the sacrifices, of those who served with distinction under the most dangerous of conditions.
May they all rest in eternal peace.