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Tri-State area veterans sound off on Kosovo

May 05, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

When Warren Eichelberger sees images of Kosovar refugees forced out of their homes, it reminds him of being in Korea's Pusan perimeter in 1950.

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As a 19-year-old U.S. Army soldier, Eichelberger watched a procession of North Koreans trudge through snow to flee south, away from Communism.

"It upsets me. I hoped I would never see it again in my lifetime," said the Antrim Township, Pa., resident, now 67.

Tri-State area veterans, some of whom have seen combat, bring a unique perspective to the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, an Eastern European country slightly larger than Maine.

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Many say they oppose the military action on the grounds that the United States has no business getting involved in the dispute between the Serbs and Kosovars.

"It seems to me this country tries to rule the world and that's not how it should be," said Randy Baker, 52, of Hagerstown, a Marine Corps corporal wounded in Vietnam.

Wayne Taylor, 66, a retired Air Force colonel who lives in Hagerstown, agreed.

"We can't be the policemen of the world. I think everybody's afraid of another Vietnam," he said.

The United States should deal with its own problems first, said Jim Sprecher, president of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County.

Richard Heiks, an Army combat medic during the Korean War, said he was more than willing to fight against Communism, but he doesn't think the United States has a mandate to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing.

A humanitarian effort to help those who are displaced from their homes would be more appropriate, he said.

"Especially if you have to see those poor people with no place to go. It just tears you up. You're never the same again," said Heiks, 67, of Hagerstown.

Veteran Don Sneckenberger is also horrified by what he has seen on television.

"The killing fields are an atrocity over there. I wish the world's population could see that hatred is taking mankind down the drain real fast," said Sneckenberger, an Army private during the Formosa Strait conflict of 1958 to 1960, when the United States helped to keep peace between Taiwan and mainland China.

But Sprecher and other veterans also believe that if President Clinton commits forces, he should be willing to do whatever it takes to win.

"If they're there, they should finish the job," said the Hagerstown man.

Some veterans believe the conflict will inevitably turn into a ground war.

"You can't just bomb. You have to get in there and, what we call, running the rabbits out," said Ray S. Linebaugh, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Hagerstown.

Linebaugh would back ground troops despite the fact they would increase the conflict's resemblance to Vietnam.

Baker accused the Kosovars of not doing enough to defend themselves, using guns or whatever weapons they could fashion.

"They're the ones that should be fighting. In Vietnam, those people used sticks and stones and look what it did," he said.

A ground war in Kosovo, like Vietnam, would be confusing for soldiers because it would be hard to distinguish enemy from friend, Baker said.

But John Doyle of Shepherdstown, W.Va., an infantry officer in Vietnam, said comparisons between the two wars can't be made.

Unlike the ethnic Albanians, the Vietnamese people did not want our help, said Doyle, 57.

Many were not optimistic that the conflict will end any time soon.

"It's going to be a long time and nobody will win," Heiks said.

Taylor, who was stationed in the Philippines during the Korean War, worries that the nation's downsized military doesn't have the backing it needs to win the war.

"We try to do too much with too little," he said.

Linebaugh also worries that most of the decisions are being made by politicians and not military leaders.

"We have a president that doesn't know anything about the military or combat," Linebaugh said.

Even those who don't agree with U.S. involvement believe the war will be won with ground forces.

"If we go do it, let's do it. Don't Mickey Mouse around like we did in Vietnam," said Eichelberger, who saw combat there as well as Korea.

"I was all gung-ho. I was determined we were going to win this war. After six months, I realized we were going to lose this thing," he said of Vietnam.

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