Cleland says Iraq War is this generation's Vietnam

September 17, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY


On the campaign trail for John Kerry on Thursday, Vietnam veteran and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland said President Bush has sent troops overseas without proper equipment, an adequate strategy or allies.

Cleland, who served from 1977 to 1981 as the administrator of the Veterans Administration, now the Department of Veterans Affairs, likened the current conflict to the war that cost him both of his legs and his right arm.

"I'm saddened because this generation has its own Vietnam," Cleland said to a crowd of around 200 Thursday afternoon at Camp Kerry, across from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.


Cleland said the rally was a "bona fide grassroots effort."

The stage from which he spoke consisted of picnic tables pushed together, cement blocks and plywood. Guests of honor sat on molded plastic lawn chairs, while tarps made up part of the stage's backdrop.

Cleland's speech focused on veterans, Bush's war record and the economy. Putting them together, Cleland said that Bush has created more veterans than jobs - veterans who will one day need to use the VA health care system.

He said the best cure for the "aging VA system" is to put a "veteran's veteran" - Kerry - in the White House.

Funding for VA hospitals should be mandatory, which might help cut down on the average of 155 days a veteran must wait to receive care after filling out the necessary paperwork, Cleland said.

He said the number of people with jobs and adequate health care has gone down, while prices for tuition and gasoline have increased.

"This economy is going backwards, not forwards," he said.

Applause and cheers dotted Cleland's speech and once the crowd chanted "No more Bush."

Crowd support

Some drivers on W.Va. 9 blew their cars' horns as they passed.

Many in the crowd carried or waved signs or wore Kerry buttons or T-shirts. Most of the signs were tame, although in small print on one sign a man had written, "Stop the Fourth Reich (Bush and His Henchmen)."

Rie Wilson, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., stood in the crowd holding a homemade sign that read, "WV is Kerry Country."

"West Virginia needs to be voting for John Kerry because he is for people who need jobs, he's for people who need health care and we have a lot of veterans here who have a lot of respect for him and he does for them," Wilson said.

As someone who travels abroad frequently, Wilson said she often is greeted with a question when she tells people she is from the United States.

"People ask, 'What's wrong with your president?'" she said. Wilson said she knows of other people who will not admit they're Americans when they travel.

"They're ashamed of it," she said.

Wilson said she believes Kerry will help restore a positive image of America, as opposed to an image of "a big bad bully."

"John Kerry is an honorable man. He's a statesman and we want to be proud of our country again," Wilson said.

Rally attendee Hank Broad served in Vietnam from January 1970 to the end of 1972. He said he believes Kerry is not only the better choice for veterans, but for all Americans.

No matter who is elected, getting out of the situation in Iraq will not be easy, Broad said, but added that he especially is angered by Bush's actions.

"It's almost like another Vietnam situation," Broad said, making Cleland's point 30 minutes before Cleland took the stage. "I don't understand why we're in Iraq. Bin Laden is in Afghanistan."

Bob Scalf, who served in a noncombat position during the Korean War, was smoking a pipe as he lingered near the edge of the crowd.

Scalf, 70, said he receives his treatment at the VA Center, but that paying for his wife's medications can be difficult.

More important to Scalf, however, are civil liberties, he said.

"The Patriot Act is lowering our civil rights to a dangerous level," Scalf said.

He also had a strong opinion on the war.

"We need to stand behind Kerry because this idiot we've got in the White House has no idea what war is about," he said.

Scalf said he believed that oil and "getting even for his daddy" prompted Bush to send troops to Iraq.

No obvious Bush supporters attended the event and there were no protesters.

Afterward, however, the chairman of West Virginia Bush-Cheney Veterans issued a written statement about Cleland's speech.

The statement by retired Lt. Col. Rob Ferguson read in part, "The people of West Virginia will not hear (from Cleland) any mention of John Kerry's eight different positions on the war in Iraq. They will not hear about Kerry's opposition to the 1991 Gulf War or how he later claimed to have supported it. They will not hear about Kerry's vote against the funding of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan despite voting to send them there."

"Voters will hear no explanation of Kerry's newest statement that Iraq is 'the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time' coming less than a month after saying he would have voted to go to war even knowing all that he knows now," wrote Ferguson.

"We will not hear any discussion of John Kerry's record because there is no explanation for his shifting, contradictory positions. John Kerry's indecision, vacillation and lack of leadership is troubling to this veteran, as it should be to all Americans," he wrote.

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