Reservists embraced on return

Soldiers: Members of the unit at the heart of the Abu Ghraib scandal receive a rousing welcome home in Cumberland.

September 25, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

CUMBERLAND - In a rousing patriotic ceremony awash with waving flags, yellow ribbons and warm remarks, several hundred relatives, friends and local officials belatedly welcomed home members of the 372nd Military Police Company last night.

Capt. Donald J. Reese, commander of the Reserve unit at the heart of the detainee abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, profusely thanked the city, veterans and others who supported his soldiers.

"I'm very proud I brought everybody back home," Reese said.

"It is truly, in my opinion, the most important thing," he said.

About half of the 110 members of the company attended the event, sponsored by the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Remarks by Roger Krueger, a representative of the group, implied a kinship between Vietnam veterans and the 372nd.

"Life after the war will be hard enough," he said. "We know from experience."

The company, based in nearby Cresaptown, returned to Fort Lee, Va., last month after 15 months on duty.

Seven of its soldiers have been charged in the torture and humiliation of prisoners at the Baghdad prison.

The charges were prompted by photographs that began to surface in April, showing members of the company allegedly involved in the abuse.

Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II of Buckingham, Va., and Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, of Hyndman, Pa., have pleaded guilty.

Testifying last month at a pretrial hearing for another of the charged soldiers, Pfc. Lynndie R. England, Reese said he "felt betrayed by my soldiers" when he learned about the photos and detainee abuse through Army investigators early this year.

"I was shocked they had done what they did," Reese said during his testimony.

Last night was the city's opportunity to celebrate the service of the other reservists who found their unit in the international spotlight.

Reese, who received a thunderous ovation when introduced, later said he was living at Fort Lee and remains on active duty with about 15 others from the company who are witnesses in the investigation.

The homecoming event, staged at a downtown pedestrian mall, drew a wide range of supporters, from families to senior citizens to veterans.

Except for a color guard of Vietnam veterans, no one else was in uniform.

Only Reese and 1st Sgt. Brian G. Lipinski were called to the stage.

The LadyBirds, a barbershop singing group, performed patriotic songs.

Singer Joanne Ralston, from nearby LaVale, said in an interview before the performance, "I think they did a good job over there, I really do."

Another singer, Betty Nora Twigg, also of LaVale, said: "We're very proud for our boys, I'll tell you, very proud."

The local chapter of the American Red Cross held a private party at the Cumberland Armory for members of the company and their families.

In a hall filled with tables of food and welcome-home signs, Raymond Twyman Jr. talked about his son, reservist Raymond Twyman III, 25.

"He did his part, and he came home alive," Twyman said. "It scared me that he was over there.

"I prayed to God that he wouldn't get hurt."

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