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War Veterans Visit West Geauga

IRAQ

West G.'s own, back from the front Line

by Kristin Heines, Lifesyles Editor

While it may seem intimidating to be sent off to a war, two former West Geauga graduates, Ryan Kozan and Tom Mooney, weren't reluctant to admit that the hardest situation they've been through since they've become a part of the army was the training they had to go through before being sent off to Iraq. I don't know about the rest of you, but six weeks of grueling tests of physical endurance followed by another three weeks of preparing for what is to come, at the very least does not sound like a cake walk to me. Both of these men have been put to the test, and both have passed with flying colors. They not only claimed that the physical work was hard, but they also said it was very tough mentally (jumping out of a plane must be somewhat tantalizing).

Both Tom and Ryan were on similar paths before they chose to enlist. Ryan completed one year at Bowling Green, while Tom only finished one semester at Kent State before he realized college life wasn't for him. Nevertheless, both enlisted, and completely by coincidence, were placed in the same group.


Life in Iraq wasn't quite as difficult as their weeks of training. They weren't embarrassed to tell Mr. Boylan's 5th period class that the worst aspects of being in Iraq were the heat (temperature can get as high as 130º) and that the food wasn't nearly up to the standards of home. Tom then sipped from a Mcdonald's cup he had brought with him. They rarely had to use their guns, and appeared relatively nonchalant to say they had picked up a new habit - smoking. Not only did the answers to the questions imply that the war had not had much of an effect on them, the pictures in the album were deceiving; they appeared to have been two college-age guys with a terrible sense of fashion on spring break.


So don't worry about our former graduates; they don't regret any of the decisions they've made along the way. As a matter of fact, they plan to go back in November. When asked if they would do it all over again, both smiled and replied, "Yes, I would."


VIETNAM

Rolling Thunder shares Experience

by Matt Solomon, Staff Writers

Recently some of Mr. Oviatt's classes had the privilege of hearing speeches bv several members of the Vietnam Veteran's advocacy group, Rolling Thunder.
Rolling Thunder is a group founded in 1988 with the goal of increasing and enforcing rights for veterans. Ever since then, Rolling Thunder has organized a march on Washington, with a slight twist on "march." The unique way Rolling Thunder attracts attention is that the entire event takes place on motorcycles. The group is named after a campaign of carpet-bombing in Vietnam; it was said that the roar of the jets flying in sounded like an approaching storm, so the campaign was named "Rolling Thunder." At the group's first march on Washington, the leaders thought that all of the motorcycles made a similar sound.

The group focuses on making sure veterans receive rights to hospitals and programs that they are entitled to, as well as bringing attention to the POW / MIA issue. While both the United States' and Vietnamese governments deny that there are any American prisoners of war still in Vietnam, the vets in Rolling Thunder are positive that there are. They feel that by bringing this issue to the public, the government will feel a greater pressure to address the issue. " When we started the Rolling Thunder Protest Parade in 1988, we were a nuisance [to the government], now we're a threat," said Dan McGinnis.

McGinnis was the first veteran to speak. He gave some background on what Rolling Thunder was and what their involvement is. He began by reading a book written by a woman who now lives in Shaker Heights, who was a nurse in Vietnam. He read several excerpts concerning especially traumatic or heroic situations. After grabbing everyone's attention with these stories, he went into a personal anecdote. He told the story of a friend of his who he grew up with and joined the military with, Wade Groth. He spoke about Wade's childhood, and how he was always a good student and a good kid. In 1970, Wade was captured when his helicopter was shot down. Eleven years later, six years after the war was over, a group of veterans on a fact finding mission documented many American prisoners in a single Vietnamese prison, one of whom was Wade Groth. A later fact finding mission in the mid-eighties found 571 American soldiers who were captured during the Vietnam war who are still being held. There are theories that there are even more soldiers captured during the Vietnam War who were moved to Russia and are still being held there. The United States, Viet Nam, and Russia all deny this. McGinnis upholds that it would be against these governments' interests to admit that prisoners were being held because they would be forced to take action that would create international tension. During his time speaking about the POW's McGinnis became increasingly emotional and spoke about survivor's guilt and not understanding why certain things happen. "Wade was a good kid; I wasn't...why him and not me?"

The next speaker, Roger Spies, was a Navy pilot based out of Midway and operating off an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin. He enlisted in 1954, and then re-enlisted in 1965. During his enlistment in the fifties, his job consisted of training exercises interspersed with covert air strikes to aid CIA saboteurs that at the time the U.S. government claimed did not exist. During his second enlistment he had bombing campaigns along with campaigns of dropping propaganda and cartoon flyers, depicting how troops should surrender. Similar tactics are being used in Iraq today. During his lecture he passed around several examples of this propaganda, including gruesome illustrations showing what would happen to soldiers who didn't surrender. He later played a tape of a firefight, recorded by a 19 year-old soldier. He played only a few minutes of the tape, although the recorded length is forty five minutes. On the tape one can hear heavy machine-gun fire, orders being yelled by officers, and screams from the wounded. At one point one could hear an officer yell, "Give 'em a kiss," meaning that he wanted someone to call in a napalm attack. He finished his portion of the speech with an explanation of the origins of Rolling Thunder.


The last speaker was John Blechschmid. He was stationed in Vietnam from 1968-1970 and spent much of his time out in a jungle rather than on a base. He spoke about the constant harassment by the the North Vietnamese. "Every evening there would be mortar attacks all night, sometimes to kill us and sometimes just to harass us and keep us from sleeping." To pass the time he drew on his helmet and drew an elaborate calendar counting down his days left in Vietnam. During his time in Vietnam he was engaged to a woman back home, who he attempted to stay in constant touch with. As soon as he was able to return, they were married and remain so to this day. He passed around examples of his art, which were a clear window into the attitude and stress of a young man in combat.

Aside from the POW / MIA issue, they also spoke of other veterans' rights that are being denied. Many veterans have suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, as well as medical problems related to exposure to Agent Orange. "There would be trucks spraying Agent Orange everywhere driving in front of a bunch of guys marching, who had no idea that it was dangerous," said Spies. Most veterans who attempt to get some sort of compensation or even treatment for these problems are denied.

These three veterans, along with many other members of Rolling Thunder, frequently give lectures at West Geauga and other local schools. They say their mission is to educate the next generation about the Vietnam War. "These are not stories we read in a book or saw in a movie, we actually lived them," said McGinnis.

 

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