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Wright-Patt marks its involvement in event

A bench and plaque commemorate the Peace Walk, a winding sidewalk between the Hope Hotel (background), which served as site of the official negotiations leading to the Dayton Peace Accords, and visiting officer quarters on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where the diplomats stayed. The unofficial talks that happened as the diplomats walked back and forth are credited with playing a role in the successful end of the Bosnian War. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

A bench and plaque commemorate the Peace Walk, a winding sidewalk between the Hope Hotel (background), which served as site of the official negotiations leading to the Dayton Peace Accords, and visiting officer quarters on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where the diplomats stayed. The unofficial talks that happened as the diplomats walked back and forth are credited with playing a role in the successful end of the Bosnian War. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- An anniversary this week is meant to remind the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base community that a quarter century ago it served as the location for the Dayton Peace Accords, which ended the brutal Bosnian War in Europe.

“Twenty-five years ago, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was etched into history when it was selected to be the site for three war-torn countries to put aside their differences and reach a historic agreement for peace,” said Col. Patrick Miller, 88th Air Base Wing commander.

“The surrounding communities and base personnel worked together – day in and day out – to create a neutral environment for peace to grow. We are honored to be part of that legacy and proud of the role we played in such a significant historical event.”

A small group is expected to commemorate the 25th anniversary on the afternoon of Nov. 21, including Matt Joseph, Dayton city commissioner and co-chair of the anniversary events committee and John McCance, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is the other event co-chair.

Honoring the results of the hard work that took place at Wright-Patterson AFB is important, Joseph said. 

“We’re very proud in playing a role in a peace agreement that stopped a war in progress. In history that doesn’t happen a whole lot,” he said. “This one stopped in its tracks, and that is not a common thing. It happened here in Dayton – a small town – not at Versailles or Paris. Noting our role, the role Air Force staffs played, the people who kept the talks going, local folks who demonstrated outside the gates of Wright-Patt when the talks were going on, school kids who made drawings – that’s important to note, our local contribution to stopping a war.” 

Joseph said he spoke several weeks ago to Ambassador Christopher Hill, who served as deputy to the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who ran the peace talks in 1995. Hill recalled schoolchildren’s peace drawings decorating the hallways of the visiting officer quarters and discussing their artistic endeavors, Joseph said.

“They were inspired by them,” he said. “Isn’t that neat?”

A private wreath-laying ceremony is scheduled to take place at what is called the Peace Accord Walk that symbolized the back-and-forth, give-and-take part of the negotiations. The winner of the Dayton Peace Prize also will be announced. Previous winners include President Bill Clinton and Holbrooke.

The accords were signed in Paris on Dec. 14, 1995, after 20 days of talks and a pact hammered out a month earlier at the Hope Hotel (today the Hope Hotel and Richard C. Holbrooke Conference Center).

The Dayton Peace Accords ended civil war and genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a small southeastern European country that was once part of Yugoslavia. The war was one of several in the region during the 1990s as Yugoslavia broke into numerous smaller nations. 

The main participants in the peace talks included Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. Holbrooke – who chose Wright-Patterson AFB as the location of the talks – was then Clinton’s assistant secretary of state for Canadian and European affairs.

Holbrooke is said to have appreciated the way the Hope Hotel’s dormitory-like layout forced participants to see and face each other daily. That kind of proximity and inability to go anywhere else forced a “breakthrough,” his son David Holbrooke recalled.

The agreement ended a nearly four-year war that had taken more than 200,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people. It halted the first European genocide since World War II, stopped widespread killing and achieved what a United Nations arms embargo and earlier attempts at peace had failed to do.

Another aspect of the 25th anniversary of the accords is the formation of international partnerships for Dayton, Joseph said. 

“Whenever I travel in Europe, even when it’s not necessarily to the Balkans, people know what Dayton is. They know the peace agreement was here. That’s nice,” he said. 

“Every diplomat I’ve talked to, whether they were from the U.S. or Bosnia-Herzegovina or Croatia, they’ve had nothing but praise for how the talks were run, for the people who helped them out -- everything from housekeeping to facilities to dining. Everything that Dayton residents helped touch, they were very happy about,” Joseph said. “Everyone has been complimentary and remembers that about Dayton and Dayton’s people, so I think the Air Force and the DoD folks, civilian and military alike, can be very proud of the role they played.”

“We were watching history being made,” said McCance, who in 1995 was a major assigned to R. Nickolas Burns, who was then the spokesperson for the Department of State and was at Wright-Patt at the time. “It’s something that was life-changing for me personally because it gave me a greater appreciation for the role of the Department of State and how powerful diplomacy can be.”

-- Thomas Gnau, Cox First Media staff writer, contributed to this story.