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Online chat with Ray Linebaugh

November 11, 2007

On Monday, Nov. 5, The Herald-Mail hosted a live chat with Ray Linebaugh, a Vietnam veteran and former president of the Joint Veterans Council of Washington County. What follows is an edited transcript of that chat.

Moderator: Did you enlist or were you drafted into the military? If you enlisted, what inspired you to do so?

Linebaugh: I enlisted in the air force Dec. 1, 1959. The reason I enlisted was that I had just finished 10th grade, and I wasn't getting anywhere. I decided to do something productive and joined the United States Air Force. I had two older brothers. One was in World War II - he was 21 years older. My other brother, John, was 10 years older than I and he went into the Air Force during the Korean conflict.

Moderator: How many years did you serve and did you see combat?

Linebaugh: I served 20 years, one month and one day, retiring Jan. 1, 1981. I was in combat. I served with the First Air Commando Squadron. That was a special outfit. I was with them a year. Vietnam was cut into four areas - and I served in the Mekong Delta.

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Moderator: Is there a memory of those days that stands out, or an example of someone's heroism that you'll never forget?

Linebaugh: There were quite a few memories, but on March 24, 1964, I won the Bronze Star for valor. That incident began with a T-28 fighter bomber aircraft that crashed coming in on an enemy concentration. Whether the plan was shot down or came down from mechanical error is still not known.

The aircraft went into the ground with the captain aboard. A Vietnamese airman basically was thrown through the canopy because he didn't have his restraining belts on. They lost the paperwork for my Bronze Star for a while, but I received it at Dover Air Force Base. The reason I and some of my fellow airmen were decorated was that there were weapons all over the ground, phosphorous and the like, and some were burning, amidst possible enemy action.

Moderator: Some of the veterans of World War II, particularly those who survived the D-Day invasion, have returned to those battlefields in their old age. Do you have any desire to see again the land where you once fought?

Linebaugh: The United States government has sent some veterans back to Vietnam since the conflict ended. I've often thought about it. If I was chosen to go, I would, just to see the difference between then and now. I believe that anyone who served would be glad to go back on a "fact-finding" mission.

Pam: Have you ever had to use veterans health-care facilities in Washington County (or in this area)? Are they as bad as Walter Reed (Army Medical Center)?

Linebaugh: The facility that I've used in Washington County is the VA Outpatient Clinic on Eastern Boulevard. The majority of my health care now comes from the VA hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va. The facilities that the VA operates have been clean, in my experience. I've never seen anything substandard. I have a doctor there in Martinsburg who takes care of my general health, Dr. Greenspoon, who is great.

I've been to Walter Reed and feel you are treated like a number, not a person. I am not impressed with Walter Reed. I will say one thing: With as many different patients and problems as they see, they do a good job. I don't see how the government can possibly shut Walter Reed down and move everyone to the Bethesda Naval Hospital. Besides the GIs, Walter Reed takes care of a vast number of public servants, including members of Congress.

Moderator: What is the greatest difference you see between the all-volunteer military and the days when the armed forces got many of their members through the draft?

Linebaugh: The difference with the all-volunteer force that a person who signs up has no gripes coming. For the draftees, they filled a lot of slots. They were, in most cases, individuals who were not happy. They were in some place they didn't want to be. And that was the military.

Moderator: Should the draft be reinstated now and if your answer is "yes," why do you feel that way?

Linebaugh: I believe that the draft will need to be reenacted due to the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe we'll have a shortage of troops. With everybody on an even keel for the draft, it will enhance the U.S. government's ability to fill vacancies in the different branches of the military.

Pam: Thank you for your service and doing this live chat. For veterans who are in the hospitals for the holidays, what do you think they would really like on their wish list? I know many nonprofit organizations take gifts, go caroling, etc., but what else can we do for them?

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