Staunton, January 13 – Many are remembering today the 13 Lithuanians Soviet forces shot and killed at the television tower in Vilnius. They made the ultimate sacrifice, and they thus deserve to be recalled whenever people speak of the defense of freedom in the world. But there are other Lithuanians who displayed courage, and many of them are far less well known.
One of the most remarkable if least-commented-upon of these groups were 12 Lithuanian ham radio operators who, at a time when Moscow sought to destroy all communications between Lithuania and the outside world, established a tele-bridge with the West that broke through the Soviet blockade.
When Soviet officials seized Lithuanian radio stations and blocked international telephone lines, these twelve people worked to get alternative radio stations up and running and equally important they began broadcasting via their ham radios to the West, providing real time news and information to Lithuanians abroad and thus to others as well.
In those dark days, I was one of the beneficiaries of their work. I was the desk officer for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at the US Department of State; and three times a day, Lithuanian Americans telephoned me with information they had received from this unique tele-bridge from besieged Lithuania.
There were a dozen brave Lithuanians involved in this effort. They included Jonas Baniūnas, Arvydas Bilinkevičius, Rita Dapkus, Gintautas Gaidamavičius, Remigijus Lašinis, Valentinas Mackevičius, Viktoras Peteraitis, Alfredas Turauskas, Vilius Vašeikis, Tadas Vyšniauskas, Virgis Zalensas and Rytis Žumbakis.
These 12 not only deserve to be remembered but to be honored for what they did and who they are. I had very much hoped to be in Vilnius on this round anniversary to do what I could in that regard. Unfortunately, because of illness, I was not able to go. But I will in the future. For now, I want to honor them by calling the attention of all those who read these lines to their work.
They are true heroes.