Col. Douglas Englund was an Army officer stationed in Russia in the 1970s when he entered a Moscow bookstore one evening in search of an encyclopedia. The exchange that followed revealed the talents that would help him defuse two of the most tense arms control standoffs in the past half-century, according to Army Brig. Gen. Roland Lajoie, who accompanied Englund at the store.
Rebuffed by a paranoid bookseller, Englund let loose an obscure Russian profanity that dropped the clerk's guard and sent the Americans on their way with their purchases.
"Right away, he made an impression," Lajoie said by phone from New Hampshire this week. "And he never made a big deal about it. He was just an 'aw shucks,' Minnesota-type of guy."
Englund died Nov. 22 in Minneapolis after a five-year fight against leukemia. He was 77.
His 30-year Army career — which included two tours in Vietnam and the 1977 rescue of sensitive U.S. documents from a burning embassy in Moscow, plus years of civil service — prompted colleagues to call him one of his country's quiet heroes.
Englund was born in Minneapolis and spent summers along Lake Minnetonka. It was there that Englund met his future wife of 55 years, Ann, when he was 12 and she was 10. Ann Englund said he taught her how to drive there, and the two later began a life of international travel shortly after college, taking with them the first of a long line of English cocker spaniels and raising three children while abroad.
"He always considered it an honor to be able to serve, never a duty," Ann Englund said.
With the Soviet Union looming over international affairs and American foreign policy, Ann said her husband was motivated to develop an expertise in Russian language and politics. His language skills impressed fellow Foreign Area Officers such as Lajoie, who met Englund while attending the Army's rigorous Russian language and culture institute.
Under Lajoie's command, Englund went on to manage weapons inspections in an isolated Russian town almost 800 miles from the nearest embassy, working to ensure compliance with a landmark U.S.-Soviet arms treaty.
Years later, working for the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq, he led a team of inspectors that oversaw the demolition of weapons of mass destruction after the first Gulf War.
After the United States and the Soviet Union signed the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, Lajoie appointed Englund, then a colonel, to work for him at the Department of Defense's On-Site Inspection Agency (OSIA). Englund codirected a monitoring program in the town of Votkinsk, where he lived among the Soviets while making sure the government ceased shipping intermediate-range missiles from a factory there.
"When you're translating treaty language into operating procedures, you need guys like this guy here from Minnesota who talked Russian and talked sense," Lajoie said. "And we accomplished a lot, I think."
Englund also helped the United Nations with weapons inspections in Iraq, and he and his wife later returned to Moscow when he took a job as a NASA representative.
Englund ended his civil service career as director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency before retiring in 2007.
In addition to wife Ann, survivors include three children — Amy of Richmond, Va., Todd of Purcellville, Va., and Lara of Washington, D.C. — and four grandchildren. Services will be held Dec. 22.