Maj. Arthur D. Nicholson has been dead for three years. For three years his family and friends have waited for an apology from the Soviet Union, waited for sanctions against the trigger-happy Soviet sentry who gunned him down, waited for a sheepish confession that the shooting was a tragic mistake.
They will have to wait a long time. The smiling Mikhail Gorbachev, a product of born-again Soviet marketing skills, has been personally unapologetic about the unprovoked killing of Nicholson in East Germany. Now we have evidence that Gorbachev's men were so unfazed by the tragedy that they engaged in bully-boy actions against the United States and Great Britain after the shooting.
Nicholson was part of a 14-member liaison team stationed in East Germany to observe the Soviets. The Soviets have a team in West Germany doing the same thing. The arrangement is sanctioned by a 1947 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union. Both sides are supposed to stay out of restricted areas.
The Soviets assert that Nicholson and his driver, Sgt. Jessie Schatz, were in a restricted area on March 24, 1985, when the Soviet sentry fired a warning shot and then gunned down Nicholson. Schatz said there was no warning, and the United States insists that the area was not restricted.
Here are some of the untold details of that day:
After Nicholson was shot, at 3:45 p.m., Schatz was held by the Soviets in his car until midnight. He was berated by Soviet military officials, who accused him of shooting Nicholson. Two Pentagon sources familiar with the details say Schatz was physically assaulted by the Soviets.
Our Pentagon sources say that an American colonel who arrived on the scene within hours of the incident was not allowed to help Nicholson. American officials do not know how long it took Nicholson to die as he lay on the ground with a single gunshot wound in his stomach.
The Soviets wouldn't hand over Nicholson's body until the following day. U.S. Army intelligence officials believe the Soviets took Nicholson to East Berlin for an examination by doctors. It was not until 5:30 p.m. on March 25, more than 24 hours after the shooting, that a U.S. doctor was allowed to examine Nicholson's body. Americans did an autopsy March 26.
In a touching move of solidarity, British liaison team members drove to the site of the shooting in Ludwigslust, East Germany, the day after Nicholson was shot and "squatted" in a silent protest. A Pentagon source said they "sat there for three days on the spot with the Soviets fuming."
That unpublicized show of support may have put the British team members in danger. Two months later, on June 4, two Soviet trucks in a military convoy rammed a British liaison car carrying three men. The incident was on an East German country road three miles from any restricted area, and the British officers were trying to back their car away from the Soviet trucks. Several Soviet soldiers hurled bricks and shovels at the British, who managed to drive their car on tire rims to the nearest village. The Soviet soldiers tailgated them and then held them at gunpoint for five hours.