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Rep. Israel presses to honor Cold War veterans

Rep. Steve Israel, right, greets Bill Walden, commander

Rep. Steve Israel, right, greets Bill Walden, commander of the Hicksville VFW, during a press conference at the Hicksville VFW Post 3211, Friday, May 22, 2015. During the press conference, Israel announced the introduction of legislation to honor members of the U.S. Armed Forces who served during the Cold War. Credit: Barry Sloan

Rep. Steve Israel Friday called for passage of legislation that would honor military veterans of the Cold War with a new service medal.

Surrounded by more than a dozen Long Island veterans at Hicksville VFW Post 3211, Israel (D-Huntington) said Cold War veterans risked their lives to prevent a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union and their Communist bloc allies, but that their service is often forgotten.

"These people secured freedom," said Israel, noting that Cold War vets are now honored with a certificate. "They fortified democracy. These people deserve a medal."

The Cold War Service Medal Act would create a medal for members of the Armed Forces who were honorably discharged after serving at least two years consecutively in active duty during the Cold War, identified in the bill as Sept. 2, 1945, through Dec. 26, 1991.

Eligible veterans must have been deployed outside the United States for at least 30 days or performed other Cold War service. The Defense Department would determine what constitutes Cold War active duty. If the veteran has died, the medal would go to their next of kin.

Rick Gales, 54, of Elmont, who served in the Navy from 1978 to 1990 on the USS Suribachi ammunition ship, said his crew often confronted Russian subs in the Mediterranean.

"We never knew when that line was going to explode," Gales said. "We lost men at the DMZ in Korea. We lost people at the line in Czechoslovakia, in Berlin and the German border. But we never got credit for it. . . . We are the forgotten ones."

The Defense Department's Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office said there are 126 U.S. servicemen unaccounted for from the Cold War.

John Geiss, 83, of Centerport served in the Air Force from 1947 to 1951 during the Berlin Blockade, in which Russian forces prevented Western nations from conducting humanitarian and military operations in parts of Berlin under Soviet control. Geiss, who also served in the Navy from 1953 to 1956, said his crew flew in needed supplies such as food and medicine.

"They had no electricity, no water and no housing," he said. "We helped them survive."

Israel's bill was introduced in late April and has 13 co-sponsors, including seven Republicans. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not respond to a request for comment.

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