April 3, 2003
front page
more news
ad information
contact information


War brings back memories for vets

For the last two weeks, Americans, safe in their homes, have been watching a war unfold in real time. As journalists embedded with U.S. and British troops in Iraq send round-the-clock reports, TV viewers can see from the front lines endless stories of tanks, explosions and dust.

For one group of viewers, the stories hit home in a deep and sometimes disturbing way. The veterans of armed services, these are men who did, in fact, live through a war in real time.

In an informal survey, eight local veterans offered opinions about the Iraqi war that were as varied as they are as individuals. However, they share a singular concern for the men and women who are fighting the war.

“There are many young men and women who didn’t volunteer with this in mind,” said Gordon Chapman, who joined the Army in 1943 and served for several years. “I feel badly for all of the innocents out there.”

The destruction of war also burns in Chapman’s memory. Raised in Japan, Chapman spoke Japanese and was sent to that country after it surrendered.

“I saw the effects of saturation bombing,” he said of his experience in Osaka. “It was like a steamroller had gone through a city of four million people. It was obliterated.”

Sent to the Japanese city in which he’d been raised, Chapman saw it had also been leveled by bombing. “When you go back to your home and see that, it leaves a deep impression,” he said.

For Wally Sikes, coverage of the war in Iraq brings back memories of his experience in World War II, when he was an 18-year-old sailor on a Naval battleship in both the European and the Pacific theaters. While most of his experience didn’t involve combat, Sikes did live through submarine attacks and bombing.

“Having been in air raids, I feel sympathetic to those who are in them now,” he said. “It’s a terrible experience.”

Overall, Sikes said, his experience of war was “mostly being really bored” and then being scared to death.

Sikes, who served from 1943 to 1946, was among those who entered Naples, Italy, after it was captured by Allied troops. He recalled the destruction of buildings and the desperation of the people, especially children begging for food.

“Those things affected me,” he said. “I saw how destructive war is, even if you’re winning.”

Their experience in war has affected these veterans in various ways. Some feel that the hoped-for outcomes of the Iraqi war justify its inevitable destruction to both Americans and Iraqis, and others do not.

“I’m in favor of this war,” said Tim Heaton, who served in the Army on infantry patrol in the South Korean demilitarized zone in 1968 and ’69. Heaton said that Saddam Hussein needs to be overthrown because of his history of aggression against both his own people and other countries, and his desire for nuclear weapons.

“He’s too dangerous to allow to continue any longer,” said Heaton, who watches as much news coverage as he can. “It’s based on what he’s done in the past and what he clearly wants to have.”

The American action also sends a necessary message to other rogue nations that might seek to do the U.S. harm, Heaton said.

“Countries like Syria, Iran and North Korea need to see that we can knock them over one at a time if we need to,” he said. “It should be a lesson to them.”

Andy Benning, who saw combat in the Philippines during World War II, agrees that the war is necessary.

“I don’t like the idea but something has to be done” to get rid of Saddam, he said. “He should have been overthrown a long time ago.”

Still, Benning deeply feels the terror of war.

“It brings up memories,” he said. “There are a lot of young kids. It’s a waste, really, a waste of time and a waste of people.”

Stationed in Germany from 1958 to ’60, Larry Kimbro never experienced combat. Although he has mixed feelings about the reasons for this war and doesn’t give the government his wholehearted support, he does throw his support behind the young men and women fighting the battles.

“Since we’re in there now we’ve got to support them,” he said. “We don’t have a choice.”

But Kimbro worries about the war’s economic effects. “This war is going to cost our great-grandchildren a bunch of money,” he said.

During World War II, Harold Cordell saw combat in India, Burma and China, but he is strongly opposed to the Iraqi war.

“I think our president is crazy,” he said. “What is this war for? If someone could explain to me why we’re there, I might feel differently. But there’s no way [the Iraqis] could come here and harm us.”

Watching war coverage brings back memories, Cordell said, and with those memories comes nostalgia. Specifically, Cordell said, he misses the camaraderie of war.

“If I were a young man again,” he said, “I’d go back.”

“I feel for the guys. I was like that once,” said Allyn Kahoe, who served in the Vietnam War in 1968. “You’re not part of the big picture. The generals are the big picture. You’re just trying to survive.”

A Marine infantryman who fought in the Tet offensive, Kahoe said, “I went through a lot of combat. I lost a lot of friends.” While Kahoe hasn’t found the Iraqi war coverage any more disturbing than living with his memories in everyday life, many of his war buddies have reported to him their heightened responses.

“This triggers things from 35 years ago,” he said. “You see war, war, war on TV and the crap comes back on you.”

Sikes said that his war experience has led him to become “pretty much of a pacifist.” While he believes the world needs some military policing, he said that he would prefer to see that policing done by an international force, rather than by individual nations.

Regarding the war in Iraq, “I’m very opposed to it,” said Sikes, who avoids watching war coverage on TV. “It’s not a justified war. I believe it will cause more problems in the future for ourselves and for the world,” he said.

Chapman refuses to watch the war on TV. “I can’t stand to watch it,” he said.

Now a member of a group called Veterans for Peace, Chapman, a former CIA employee, has spent many years researching American foreign policy for a book he’s writing, and his research has led him to this country’s role in aiding Saddam.

“Our nation’s oligarchs have an atrocious record,” he said. “Years ago Europe and the U.S. armed Iraq and Iran and played them off against each other. Rumsfeld and Cheney created the monster Saddam,” he said, referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney. “I’m opposed to their war.”

—Diane Chiddister