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Letters to the Editor - Dec. 20

December 19, 2012

Libya, North Vietnam a contrast in military response

To the editor:

I am outraged at the recent handling of events in Benghazi, Libya, and am reminded of a very different reaction by the American government when it had the opportunity to rescue its citizens.

As many readers of The Herald-Mail know, I was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. For three years, from July 18, 1968, until July 14, 1970, I was held in the Camp at Son Tay, 25 miles from Hanoi. At some point in 1969, U.S. intelligence learned that there might be American POWs at Son Tay.

To show how sketchy the intelligence was, it wasn’t until July 1970 that President Nixon gave the order to plan a mission to rescue us. At no point in the planning would it have been possible to know with certainty whether we were actually at Son Tay, but President Nixon took the risk because a government has the duty to protect its citizens when they are carrying out duties assigned by that government.

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The raid began shortly before midnight on Nov. 20, 1970. Twenty-nine U.S. aircraft operated by 92 crew members carried Army Col. Arthur “Bull” Simon and 56 Green Berets. They landed at the camp shortly after 2 a.m. In the course of the ensuing firefight, they killed between 100 and 200 North Vietnamese soldiers. The only American casualty was a broken ankle incurred when one helicopter made a planned crash landing inside the walls of the prison.

Unknown to the American government, we had been moved four days before the order was given.

The attempted rescue in North Vietnam and the events in Libya stand in stark contrast. In Libya, our military and civilian leaders reportedly knew that four Americans, including our ambassador, were in imminent danger of death, and exactly where they were. Military assets were within one hour of the consulate, yet the mission reportedly was refused. In North Vietnam, our leaders had only sketchy intelligence that Americans might have been at Son Tay, yet the mission was carried out. In Libya, only one V-22 Osprey aircraft would have been needed, with no more than 20 Marines. In North Vietnam, there were 29 aircraft and 57 Green Berets.  

In North Vietnam, the mission failed, but the government told the truth about the mission. In Libya, there was no mission and the government appears to have lied about everything. Here is the contrast: In the one case, there was admirable leadership; in the other, there was an abject failure of leadership.

James H. Warner
Rohrersville


Another shooting highlights need for gun-safety laws

To the editor:
Terror, once again, saturates the news. Casualties, families weeping on camera and despair fill the airwaves and front pages. Another unimaginable, horrendous chapter in the long narrative of gun violence served up right in time for Christmas. I am writing this about 24 hours after the last bullet was fired in Newtown, Conn., and facts about this case lie in the unfocused distance.

But one thing is clear. Automatic, high-capacity firearms killed innocent victims. Little children concentrated in schoolrooms with loving teachers, while administrators were sitting ducks, easy targets for a man with a weapon that fired 30 times before you could dial 9-1-1.

Some say, “Now is not the time to talk about it, in the immediate aftermath of a massacre.” I say we’ve talked enough, already. Let’s get on with strategic action to prevent further episodes of mass murder. Let’s reduce every form of gun violence — gang killings, domestic violence, suicides and accidents. I hope you are with me. Treat this like a public health epidemic. Seatbelts saved lives in auto accidents. Smoking cessation reduced cancer rates. Gun-safety laws can diminish gun-related deaths.

I propose the following:

1. Stop stigmatizing mental illness. 

2. Improve mental health funding. 

3. Mandate background checks on all gun sales.

4. Ban public sales of military and law enforcement guns and ammunition, assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Publicize gun safety. These legislative activities would not conflict with the Supreme Court’s decision for the individual’s right to own a firearm.  Nor would they spoil the enjoyment of hunting, but they would start the drive toward universal gun safety. Legislation from the top down should be enacted before the next mass killing.

We have run out of tears. I harbor the distinct feeling in my internal clock that we have no time to waste in debate.

M. Douglas Becker
Hagerstown


Senior center guidlines document is available

To the editor:

In reference to the Dec. 12 editorial on the importance of having a modern senior center in our community, we like the idea of the armory on Willard Street being remodeled to be a 21st-century comprehensive senior center to serve the growing number of seniors in our community.

To that end, we have prepared a “Suggested Guidelines” document in which we outline and delineate the basic components of a senior center. We have based this document on our experiences with the temporary senior center at Girls Inc. and visits to a number of senior centers in other parts of our state; many counties have more than one senior center and learning of their experiences has been invaluable.

A copy can be obtained by calling the Commission on Aging at 301-790-0725, ext. 203, or emailing sjm@wccoaging.org.

William K. Beard Jr.
Property committee chairman
Commission on Aging board of directors

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