Vietnam Vets Share Memories

Pain Recalled By Watching Gulf War

War In The Gulf

February 03, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

For some county veterans of the Vietnam War, pictures of bombs exploding in the Persian Gulf region and beaten-down prisoners of war pleading for peace have been like a rake, slowly dredging up memories of long-buried pain and confusion.

"Watching it all, it's almost likeall of those scenes are being rerun," said Dean Robertson, 40, of Sykesville, who served as a sergeant with the Marines in Vietnam in 1969.

But those same pictures also help the people at home understand what Americans serving in the military are going through, the veteranssay.

"I was in high school before I went to Vietnam," said Robertson. "It was never mentioned in class and people never talked about it, except within families.

"Now, they are already discussing the war in classrooms and on television. It's better that we discuss it openly," he said.

Along with that open discussion comes demonstrations against the war, something the veterans interviewed said they cando without.

For them, scenes of peace demonstrations plunge them back to the days when American soldiers were called "baby-killers" and came home to face rejection and disgust.

Robertson said he has difficulty reconciling the opinions of those who say they are demonstrating against the war, not against the people who are fighting it.

"I think its a fine line between being against the war and being against the troops," said Robertson, an oil burner mechanic. "I don't see how its possible to separate one from the other."

Robertson alsosaid that once war casualties start adding up, public sentiment might turn against the troops.

Rick F. Will Sr., a Vietnam veteran whotook part in a peace demonstration in Westminster before the war began, said he initially believed the United States should stay out of Iraq.

"During the candlelight walk for peace, there was a unanimousopinion that we were supporting the troops," said Will, a Westminster resident who served as a specialist with the Army in Vietnam for a year starting in 1964. "We were trying to send a message to the president not to go to war."

But now that the war has begun, Will said he will no longer participate in peace protests.

"I think now it'sour responsibility to support the men and women serving in the gulf," said Will, a cable splicer for C & P Telephone Co. in Catonsville.

Former Army sergeant and Union Bridge resident Robert E. "Eddie" Smith Jr. said the demonstrators' support for the troops is a good sign.

"The protests do seem to be different this time," said Smith, who said he has a special concern because his stepson, Timothy Roop, is serving on the border of Saudi Arabia with the Marines. "I'm glad to see them getting a lot of support. They need it. It helps a lot."

Smith, Will and Robertson all said they see parallels between Iraq and Vietnam in the treatment of prisoners of war.

"We seem to be the only country to follow the Geneva Convention when it comes to thetreatment of prisoners," said Robertson, who has written to soldiersserving in the gulf region through a pen pal program at the Union Bridge VFW Post. "When you see them (the prisoners), they have the samelook on their faces as they did in Vietnam. It's almost like a flashback."

Will, who worked along with Robertson and Smith to raise money for the state and county Vietnam veterans memorials, said he plans to work to help prisoners of war and those declared missing in action when this war is over.

"I will try to get support from local citizens to contact Congress so that this new set of POWs and MIAs get the proper benefits and are not forgotten this time," said Will, who wears a small yellow ribbon every day.

The men said that while thebarren desert terrain in the Persian Gulf area is very different from what they faced in most of Vietnam, it can present some similar difficulties.

"I can relate to whats going on there at night with thecold, " said Smith. "If during the day it's 120 or 125 degrees and it drops down to 70 degrees at night, you are cold."

Will said that, strategically, the desert could present more problems.

"It's awful hard to hide behind a grain of sand," said Will.

The veterans said that because of what they faced in Vietnam and in this country after the war, they hope the gulf war will end quickly.

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