Vietnam vets seek support for 'brothers' Operation High Profile: The Live POW Lobby of America organized a demonstration to raise awareness of its effort to have the government account for prisoners of war and those missing in action.

March 27, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A few honked or waved, but most motorists sped by Operation High Profile, a nationwide demonstration Saturday for POWs.

No one questioned an "Unaccounted for is Unacceptable" sign on Route 140 in Finksburg or a shivering trio near the Beltway in Parkville in Baltimore County.

The wind chilled Manchester resident Rick Will through his sweat shirt, imprinted with "Search Team 7, Vietnam." Undeterred by the cold and indifference, he continued his plea for "brothers" left behind in Southeast Asia.

"Just the fact that I know they are there drives me," said Mr. Will, 51, who 32 years ago served in an Army communications unit in Vietnam and has returned there three times since 1993.

Bob Weisner, 46, a fellow veteran, joined Mr. Will at the Finksburg site, one of seven in the metropolitan area.

"We have brothers still in Vietnam, and it's time to bring them home," said Mr. Weisner, also of Manchester.

Michael Van Atta, chairman of the Live POW Lobby of America and organizer of the demonstration, took up a post outside the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington "to distribute information and raise awareness," he said.

Mr. Will comes by his convictions from recent trips to Vietnam at his own expense. He forwarded his findings to the Pentagon and volunteered for a debriefing.

"My information was debunked as not being credible," he said.

The Pentagon receives a barrage of POW reports and insists it vigorously follows every lead. Every year, the staff investigates thousands of dog tags, even bone fragments.

"The Department of Defense is continuing active efforts to identify POWs and return remains from those in Southeast Asia," said Susan Hansen, public affairs officer. "We spend $55 million a year to do full and complete investigations."

After a search of files dating to 1978, Larry Greer, chief of the POW/MIA office at the Pentagon, said he had "absolutely no indication Mr. Will had reported anything to us."

Mr. Will disputed that statement and said he had records of his Pentagon contacts. He has lost faith in government efforts and no longer discusses his information with officials, he said. He may return to Vietnam, but "only to bring somebody out. There is no need to prove they are there. I already found that information."

Lt. Col. Marty Wisda of the POW office said the Pentagon will act on any information provided.

"It may not pan out, but it could become another piece of the puzzle," he said.

"Reports of live sightings are checked out by whatever means necessary."

Bruce Wilkins, a Vietnam veteran, heard about Operation High Profile on the radio and came from his home in Sykesville to pick up an information packet from Mr. Will.

"I am here to find out," he said as he browsed through a hefty stack of papers.

"The way the government hides things, I'm open to the idea people were left behind."

In Baltimore County, at Perring Parkway and Joppa Road, another veteran joined the demonstration with his two children. William Collins, a Navy reservist who served in Vietnam in 1968, said he chose a spot that draws many Saturday shoppers.

"I want to enlighten the public," he said. "I don't think the average person is getting the true facts. The government doesn't want to face the embarrassment that they left people behind."

Carrie Collins, 12, held a "Vietnam still holds American prisoners" sign firmly in her mittens.

"There were kids my age who never got to see their father after the war," she said. "People my father knew might still be there."

Jason Collins, 16, plans to enlist in the Navy when he graduates from Eastern Vocational School in Baltimore County.

"If something happens somewhere and I don't come back, I would want people here to know and to help," he said.

Pub Date: 3/27/96

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