“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, schoolkids 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, former deputy to late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who ran the peace talks in 1995. Hill recalled schoolchildren’s peace drawings decorating the hallways of 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’s called the Peace Walk, which symbolized the back-and-forth, give-and-take part of negotiations. 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 among 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 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,” recalled his son, David.
The agreement ended a nearly four-year war that had taken more than 200,000 lives and displaced over 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 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. 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.”
In 1995, McCance was a major assigned to R. Nickolas Burns, then-spokesperson for the State Department and working from Wright-Patt at the time.
“We were watching history being made,” McCance said. “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.”
n Thomas Gnau, Cox First Media staff writer, contributed to this story.