John Shalikashvili


SEATTLE (AP) — Retired Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, the first foreign-born chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who counseled President Bill Clinton on the use of troops in Bosnia and other trouble spots, has died, the Army said in a statement. He was 75.

Shalikashvili died Saturday morning at Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state following complications from a stroke suffered on August 2004 that paralyzed his left side.

President Barack Obama said Saturday that the United States lost a "genuine soldier-statesman," adding in a statement that Shalikashvili's "extraordinary life represented the promise of America and the limitless possibilities that are open to those who choose to serve it."

The native of Poland held the top military job at the Pentagon in the Clinton administration from 1993 to 1997, when the general retired from the Army. He spent his later years living near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and worked as a visiting professor at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation.

Clinton pointed out that "Gen. Shali" made the recommendations that sent U.S. troops into harm's way in Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, the Persian Gulf and a host of other world hotspots that had proliferated since the end of the Cold War.

"He never minced words, he never postured or pulled punches, he never shied away from tough issues or tough calls, and most important, he never shied away from doing what he believed was the right thing," Clinton said.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement that he relied on Shalikashvili's advice and candor when he served as Clinton's chief of staff during the foreign policy crises in Haiti, the Balkans and elsewhere.

"John was an extraordinary patriot who faithfully defended this country for four decades, rising to the very pinnacle of the military profession," Panetta said. "I will remember John as always being a stalwart advocate for the brave men and women who don the uniform and stand guard over this nation."

In a farewell interview with The Associated Press in 1997, Shalikashvili said American military and civilian authorities need to cooperate more when they decide to get involved in such trouble spots, because so much of what the military is asked to do involves humanitarian or peacekeeping operations.

For example, he said, the military might need assistance from the Justice Department to help set up police forces, or advice from the State Department on economic aid.

"We know the agencies, but who is responsible for coordinating it, bringing it all in at the right time?" he said. "Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda, even Somalia, showed us these things go forward from the first day, and there is no coordinator."

Shalikashvili was head of the Joint Chiefs when the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military was adopted. He had argued that allowing homosexuals to serve openly would hurt troop morale and undermine the cohesion of combat units. Years later, though, he said that he changed his mind on the issue after meeting with gay servicemen.

"These conversations showed me just how much the military has changed, and that gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers," Shalikashvili wrote in a January 2007 New York Times opinion piece.

Earlier in his career, under the first President George Bush, Shalikashvili served as NATO's supreme allied commander and also commander in chief of all U.S. armed forces in Europe. At the end of the first Gulf War, he was in charge of the Kurdish relief operation in Iraq.

In 2004, Shalikashvili also served on a senior military advisory group to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, as did another former NATO commander, Gen. Wesley Clark.

Not long before his stroke, Shalikashvili spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, saying, "I do not stand here as a political figure. Rather, I am here as an old soldier and a new Democrat."

Shalikashvili was born June 27, 1936, in Warsaw, the grandson of a czarist general and the son of an army officer from Soviet Georgia. He lived through the German occupation of Poland during World War II and immigrated with his family in 1952, settling in Peoria, Ill.

He learned English from watching John Wayne movies, according to his official Pentagon biography, and he retained a distinctive Eastern European accent.

Shalikashvili, who studied engineering at Bradley University in Peoria, enrolled in the Air Force Reserve ROTC, but his eyes were not good enough to be a pilot, according to a Defense Department biography.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1958 and was drafted months later. In addition to being the first foreign-born Joint Chiefs chairman, he was the first draftee to rise to the top military job at the Pentagon, the Defense Department said.

"He knows how to put combat power together, understands policy options and will also be highly regarded by the troops," retired Col. Roy Alcala, who worked with Shalikashvili in the Pentagon, said in 1993.

Shalikashvili was the 13th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The current chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, said Shalikashvili "skillfully shepherded our military through the early years of the post-Cold War era, helping to redefine both U.S. and NATO relationships with former members of the Warsaw Pact."

Shalikashvili and his wife, Joan, moved to Steilacoom, near the Army's then-called Fort Lewis south of Tacoma, Wash., in 1998.

Shortly after Shalikashvili was tabbed by Clinton, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said documents it found indicated the general's late father, Dimitri Shalikashvili, collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The center said it found the elder Shalikashvili's unpublished writings in the archives of Stanford 's Hoover Institution.

Shalikashvili is survived by his wife Joan, their son, Brant, and other family members.

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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I remember when you came to 9th Infantry Division (motorized) at Fort Lewis, WA. I met you on several occasions as a PFC and Specialist. Your staff always asked me not to bother you and to stay away from you, but you always went out of your way and THANKED me for the great job I was doing (installing wires systems, telephones, facsimile machines, and working in the ICPs, integrated Command Posts and DMain Command Post area. Thank you for being kind to me.

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When I received my Regular Officer Commission at the Eisenhower Mem'l in the Pentagon, Shali + JCS [except McPeak] stopped as they were walking by and viewed my ceremony. He was a very busy man at that time--and I've never forgotten his high-class act of stopping for one AF Captain on a special day.

The US Army is so much better because of this man's military leadership/people skills. He believed in his man and woman and lead always from the front...may God know he has one of the finest persons to ever lived and meant so much to so few of the people who served under him and had the great opportunity to work with. A military leader who set the bar high for all to follow. The US Air Force has "3-Core Valves"... Integrity First, Service Before Self and Excellence in all we do. A...

I was Gen. Shali's boyhood friend. I was an 18-year foreign scholarship student at Bradley University, Peoria, IL and he was a 16-year DP from Europe. We met at the tennis court, which was near his house. After he beat me in tennis, I was often invited to his house for a cool drink. There I a met his family: mother, father,brother and sister. He beat me in tennis fair and square, but he kept talking about my good shoots to ease my disappointment. In the two-plus years we "palled"...

R.I.P. General, it was an honor to serve under your Command. What a DISTINGUISHED General, May you rest in peace.. HOORAHH

Miss Joan, I think I said all that needs to be said about the "Boss" in my email. All of these entries bear witness to how General Shali was loved and will be missed. I look forward to seeing and reading his biography. And not a day will pass that I don't remember the time I had the pleasure of serving with and for him. And so it is in print, in my most humble opinion, he had one heck of a fine wife in you. You gave to this country and I will never forget you either!! God...

Attention!I had the Honor of being the Generals driver in 1980-1981 when he was the Divarty Cmdr. for the 1ST AD.He was simply the, Most Amazing General,I will never forget the Sacrafices he and His Family have Made!As a Minnesota PGR Member its about HONOR,DIGNITY,RESPECT!KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY SIR! Don Sparks

I never met the General, but I stood a flag line with the Patriot Guard at his funeral service, and was invited to attend his funeral by his wife, in Tacoma, WA. What an incredible man he was. Our nation not only lost a great soldier, but also a great diplomat who was able to make his points in firm, but respectful manner. I was honored to to be part of his service. RIP General, and God Bless America!!

As Gen. Shali's biographer, I've appreciated reading all these memories of this great man. Please know that there will be a funeral in Arlington National Cemetery for Gen. Shali in October.