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 didnt 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
The destruction of war also burns in Chapmans 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 hed 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 didnt 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. Its 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
Those things affected me, he said. I saw how destructive
war is, even if youre 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.
Im 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.
Hes too dangerous to allow to continue any longer, said
Heaton, who watches as much news coverage as he can. Its based
on what hes 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 dont like the idea but something has to be done to
get rid of Saddam, he said. He should have been overthrown a long
Still, Benning deeply feels the terror of war.
It brings up memories, he said. There are a lot of young
kids. Its 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 doesnt give the government his wholehearted support, he does
throw his support behind the young men and women fighting the battles.
Since were in there now weve got to support them,
he said. We dont have a choice.
But Kimbro worries about the wars 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 were there, I might
feel differently. But theres 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
If I were a young man again, he said, Id go back.
I feel for the guys. I was like that once, said Allyn Kahoe,
who served in the Vietnam War in 1968. Youre not part of the
big picture. The generals are the big picture. Youre just trying
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
hasnt 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, Im very opposed to it, said
Sikes, who avoids watching war coverage on TV. Its 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 cant 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 hes writing, and his research has led him to this countrys
role in aiding Saddam.
Our nations 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. Im opposed to their war.