Veteran Of 3 Wars Takes Pride In Desert Storm

War In The Gulf

March 06, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

NEW WINDSOR — Sitting in the comfortable living room of his farmhouse, retired Col. William E. Weber speaks about the Persian Gulf war and U.S. military leaders in no uncertain terms.

"The way the Persian Gulf war wasmanaged by the president and the military is something of which the American people can be proud," said Weber, who has taken an active role in three of the last four wars fought by U.S. soldiers.

He speaks about war with the voice of experience and authority.

Weber served with the Army in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but he says the nation's recent war may have been its most remarkable in terms of domestic support.

"It (the war) demonstrates the strengthof this nation when its people are united in support," said Weber. "Not even in World War II did you see the same intense degree of support."

Weber noted the hundreds of thousands of letters Americans wrote to "Any service member" to let them know people at home were supporting them.

"Even the anti-war demonstrators took great pains to support the troops, even if they didn't support their actions," Webersaid.

Weber knows about unsupported wars. He lost an arm and a leg in combat while serving as company commander of an Army infantry division during the Korean War -- a war often regarded as forgotten.

Or at least misunderstood, Weber says.

Since 1986, when former President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Korean War Veterans Memorial Committee, Weber has spent much of his time trying to change the image of the Korean War. He has traveled the country giving speeches and encouraging people to donate to the memorial fund.

During the Vietnam War -- America's most openly and widely challenged war -- Weber worked with wounded soldiers.

"Vietnam produced a great many personnel with serious injuries," said Weber. "But it also was the most traumatic war because of the difficulties at home and the way the military suffered image-wise."

But the war against Iraq has been a different story, Weber says.

The retired colonel says the national fervor surrounding the Persian Gulf war differs from the mood of the nation during World War II -- another war that saw massive popular support.

In his travels across the country to rally interest in the Korean War Memorial, Weber has seen hundreds of thousands of yellow ribbons and many signs pledging support.

During World War II, the nation's residents were working in industries to boost the war effort. People saved scrap metal, planted victory gardens, and rationed meat and sugar to help. But none of that help was needed during this war, he says.

"Because of the kind of work people do now, they did not feel directly involved," he said. "People had to do something more dramatic to show their support this time."

The United States and thecoalition forces did not have much choice about entering the gulf war, Weber says.

"We had to do what was done, not only from the point of view of deterring aggression, but also from a national-interest viewpoint," he said.

"The country could not allow one individual to possibly gain control of 50 percent of the world's known oil reserves."

Now that the war has ended, Weber is spending much of his time planning a welcome home celebration for his former regiment, the 187th Infantry Regiment based at Fort Campbell, Ky.

The 187th is theonly paratrooper infantry unit in the Army to have fought in all four 20th-century U.S. wars, Weber said.

The group is known as the Rakkasans, a name given to them by the Japanese in the Philippine Islands during World War II. Weber said the closest English translation ofthe word is "falling down umbrella man."

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