Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on July 30, 1972 · Page 40
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 40

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, July 30, 1972
Page 40
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^ v^y--;-,·· rtf v ^ W to be the Last to Die TROOPS BOARD WAITING AIR TRANSPORT FOR VIETNAM WAR Inset Photos: Spec. John R. Urban (left) and Lt. Col. Robert Carman Bv Kav Bartlett T R A V I S A I R F O R C E B A S E , Calif.--(AP)-- The war protests go on. Troop w i t h d r a w a l s a r e a n n o u n c e d periodically on prime time. A presidential candidate runs on a "Peace Now" plank. And at Travis Air Force Base, the dispatcher announces Flight 281 will board Irom Gate Two. Final destination: Saigon. The replacement troops and advisers pull themselves up from the floors of the big barn-like terminal where some have been trying to sleep on duffel bags for hours. From the chairs, from the big cafeteria, from the little television sets you can watch for quarters, the young dogfaces and the beribbonerl brass head for the chartered commercial airliner that will take them into a country whose very name evokes a strong reaction from most Americans. Seven hundred to 800 men leave from thi.s air base north of San Francisco each week, some professional soldiers going back to Vietnam for their second or third tour of duty, some teenagers on their way !o get a first-hand look at a war they remember reading about practically all their lives. They go with many emotions. Adventure. Patriotism. The dream of saving a spot in the world threatened by communism. Bitterness at being among the last to go, perhaps the last to die. "What difference does it make how I feel about going?" asked an Army major. "I don't know why anyone should be interested in how we feel. We're going. That's it." A 20-vear-man, Armv Lt. Col. Robert Carman, says he looks forward to getting back into the field again. He served his first tour during the 1966-67 buildup. "It's the only fight we have right now," says Carman. "It's when- the action is. The pay is better, but the risk is greater. But that's our business. I'm a professional soldier."' Carman, who has a short crew c u t , says he has no political feelings about the Tightness or the wrongness of the war. "Politics is not our line of business. A soldier is a soldier. We've started something and I think we have to give the Vietnamese a chance. If it goes Communist, we can only say we've tried.' 1 THE THOUGHTS of the young men are far more volatile than "those of the professional soldiers. There's a young man calling for the use of atomic" weapons, another with a peace symbol tattooed on his arm, some who have signed peace petitions. But even among the professionals, the thoughts about being among the last to go vary. An Air Force technical sergeant, .going for his third tour of duty, says "Why should 1 go over now?" It's just, a political thing.'The first time I went, I thought I · was going for a cause. If I could just feel I was d o i n g some good, it would be different. If these people cared or wanted us in there. The non-com, with 20 years in and eight months away from retirement, declined to give his name. "Career men won't say how they really feel for the record. They know they'll get hung." His specialty will keep him in the field pretty much and this time around, he says he's scared. "I've run for bunkers before. but we had protection then. Now I'd rather have my seven and JO-year-old sons out there than the South. Vietnamese troops. They're undependable. I can see why they get the nickname 'Zipperhead'." "I do feel bitter this time. Nixon might want to save his honor, but I don't want him to do it with my l i f e . ' ' THE CAREER MEN generally looked upon their tour in Vietnam as just another job, a year-long transfer from corporate headquarters to an outlying branch office. Three Army majors, who just finished 18 weeks of school together at the State Department in Washington. D.C.. were reunited at. the base, waiting for their flight to be called. All had served earlier tours. "I'm not overjoyed about going, but. that's my job," said one, Maj. Waldo Freeman. "I'm a professional soldier." His buddy, Maj. John A. Noble added: "We still have a job to do over there. We want to see it finished honorably. Too' many Americans have died. I love this country and want to help save it." iMajors Freeman, Noble and John Koisch will be district senior advisers but don't feel they will be in as much danger this time as in their earlier tours of duty. None of the three feared being the last to die. "We'll be home before Christmas." said Freeman. "It is the success of Viet- namization, not the failure, that caused the recent new offensive. The 1968 Tet offensive was the beginning of the end of the VC." The end of the war was discussed by some with bitterness. Air Force Sgt. Cecil T. Crim, going back for the second lime in an 18-year career, predicts Nixon will pull everybody out by September. "It's pathetic. After all thi.s we're going to compromise just like we did in Korea without gaming a foot." says Crim. He spent only 21 days with his bride before he had to leave and he says the war is just a political expedient at this point. "The young men who ask 'Why am I here' have got the wrong question." As he heads for the plane that will take him to what could be the final battles, Crim isn't happy about the new military, t h e c 111 - d o w n d i s c i p l i n e a n d permissiveness. "There's no discipline left," says the .38- year-old Crim. "Curtis LeMay was right when he said t h a t if you're not going to train the m i l i - tary you might as well put civilians in there." THE VETS don't talk much about dying and killing. The recruits express the same feelings of all young men going to wars new or old--the fear for their lives and the spectre of k i l l i n g another human being. A 26-year-old Air Force captain, who declined to give his name, is assigned to be the co-pilot on a gunship. "I'll be pulling the triggers and I don't like it very much. You can j u s t i f y it in may ways and I guess I have because I haven't told them I wouldn't do it. I rationalize by realizing you're always helping somebody, even up there. "I didn't want to go. I don't think we're doing any good over there, anyway. And I. know killing somebody is going to change me, make me different somehow. I don't know how, yet." Air Force Staff Sgt. Mark Boettner, 23, is a bomb loader. "I don't feel personally responsible for what the bombs might do. I'm just following orders." For Steve Blum, 18, it's survival. Blum, kicked out of school in Sherman, N.Y., joined the Navy four months ago. He will be aboard the Defiance, an amphibious landing craft and will carry a .45 and an M-l. "It might, be exciting. I'll be up where the fire is. I figure it'll be them or me and I'll be pulling the triggers first.'' Blum, a "boot" was travelling with Navy E-3 Gary Owens, 21. Owens was returning to Vietnam after a leave. "Back here." said Owens. "I have second thoughts about the killing. Over there, it's like a turkey shoot. It's not the VC. It's just somebody who gets in the wav. Sunda ( » a / . r l l r - M a i l A f fairs "I just hope these kids won't learn to feel about death like I do." Army Specialist John R. Urban, a teacher of American history and government in Shrevesport, La., is one of the most opposed to going to Vietnam. "Man. I don't even hunt," says the 24r year-old schoolteacher. "All I want to do is go over there and turn a wrench. I don't want to kill anybody. I hope I can come back without knowing how. Five sergeants have already told me I have an attitude problem. I know that." Those expressing no fear are armed with statistics and rationales: "More people were murdered in Detroit last year." "Do you know how many people were killed in traffic accidents on the Fourth of July?" "How come nobody c o u n t s t h e n n m b p r w h o mm? bark unscathed?" One career man said he thought it was more dangerous driving 1-95 to the Pentagon every day. Air Force Captain Robert Carrico says even his wife has no worries. "She realizes I'm in a low risk occupation." The 25-year-old Carrico has a ready answer as to his feeling about being at the tail end of the troops going to Vietnam. "It's a business venture and I knew the club had an affiliate over there when I joined," he says. The war in Viet' nam is corning to an end. President Nixon says it'll be pretty soon. George McGovern · says he'd do it immediately. Kither way, the troops that are going now are among the last to go. . .perhaps among the last to die. Travis following the announcement, only one is in Vietnam. Spec. 4 Arlen Albertson. 21, of Rolla, N.D., signed the neccessary papers and went. "I want to go over and see what It's like," Albertson said in an interview the day after the announcement, when it was still unclear whether the decision would apply to him. "I have no fear of going. I was disgusted and disappointed about the situation. I talked to my parents and they don't know why I want to go. I tried to explain it to them." said Albertsnn, assigned to be infantryman. Of the 22 young men gathered at Travis, five said they still wanted to go. But when it, came down to the paper signing and the final decision, only Albertson persisted. In a time when everyone seems to have a strong feeling one way or another about Vietnam, many of the young men most involved did not. Some said they didn't know whether the way was right or wrong, had no idea who they would vote for in November, if in fact, they would vote. It was a chance for an alternative for some, something to do after getting kicked out or dropping out of high school. One 18-year- old said he enlisted because he lost his driver's license for too many violations and it. seemed as good a time as any to join the Army. , W"r.sf Virginia J u l y 30, 1972 III THE YOUNG Army men pass through Oakland Army Base en route to Travis AFB and then Vietnam. In the month of June, 1,100 came through, a few to find an IHh hour reprieve as President Nixon announced that draftees no longer must serve in Vietnam unless they volunteer for the duty. Three of the men spared Vietnam were hours away from boarding the airliner when word came through. "I don't know whether to thank God or Nixon." said one, Pfc. Robert McCarthy when he heard the news. "If I don't have to go my whole family will vote for Nixon." Of the 22 young men rounded up at . THE FEELING that the U. S. shouldn't be in the war, but since we were, the best possible fight should be fought was voiced by some. Spec. E-5 William Tuck joined the Army three years ago when he was 17 was waiting to return to Vietnam after a leave. "I joined to see the world, but I've seen all I want to see," said Tuck, who drives an ammunition-hauling tractor-trailer. He saw seven of his buddies killed. Tuck says he was last shot at May 18th and is not overjoyed about going back now. "We shouldn't be there, but we've got too much sunk in now to pull back. But I've spent my time wcr there. Let's get some of the longhairs ol'f the streets and send them over." "I'rr. not very optimistic." said Urban, "but. a drowning man will clutch at a straw." Urban, father of an 18-month-old son, fought the draft successfully for a while, but eventually Uncle Sam did indeed want him. He signed the aapers. Urban believing he was a draftee and Washington believing he enlisted. "f never brought it up until now," said Urban. "It. didn't make any difference. Now it makes all the difference. Nobody want, to be the last person sent to Vietnam. Nobody want to be the last to d:«! over there." Urban lost his case. And he was among the last to go. Black Lung: Frustration Breeds Activism It in an insidious disease, earned for hard work, and ending ait the slowly suffocating dust turns thp lungs black and britt.lp. It. debilitates men and leaves orphans and widows. Black lung remains a social as well as a medical problem. HUNTINGTON (AP)-These sickly men are everywhere in Appalachia--from the tiny, tired" coal camps to the teeming, thriving cities. Their symptoms are always the same--the wheezing voice, the gasping breath, the continual spitting. They are the victims of black lung. The U.S. Public Health Service several years ago counted 100.000 sufferers of pneumoconiosi.s. a disease of the lung caused by inhalation of dust particles. The Encylopedia Britannira calls it an occupational chest, disease. Those who live with it call it black lung. It is also a debilitating, life-shortening disease, much like emphysema. The coal dust permeates the air sacs of the lung, hardening them and impeding their ability to take up oxygen from the air. In the end the black lung victim may suffer heart trouble, and will certainly suffer a tiring, frustrating struggle for life's breath. Slow suffocation. Neither is it a new disease. Chronicled 2.000 years ago. it was a critical problem in England in the 1920s, and in Australia. In fact, anywhere man descended into the earth to dig out coai for energy. "THE 100.000 f i g u r e probably is outmoded," Dr. Donald Rasmussen, an expert on respiratory diseases, said. "I have seen estimates tha' state 50 to 60 per cent of the 350,00 miners applying for pncumoconiosis benefits should qualify." Rasm;iss?n heads up an \ppalarhian Regional Hospital clinic designed to diagnose lung ailments. THIS NATION'S first veal commitment to dealing with the affliction came in 1969 when the. landmark Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act was established, providing, according to Rasmussen. "some very adequate measures for dealing with the dust contents of mines." It, also provided benefits for thousands of stricken miners. A 1972 amendment extends benefits to Bv Richard Carelli an estimated 100,000 to 150.000 additional persons. The amendment will affec 1 , men like Houston Richardson and Ernie Morris, who in the past have been unsuccessful in compensation attempts. Richardson, a 37-year veteran of the mines in West Virginia's Creenbrier Coun- f t ; V i o c tp. cloon c i H i n c r l i n * n r f r o m n r r *,,-f l._v , ..,,,, ..I. . j, ., ...^ M j , t u . w . M f t , . l f t j i a o u two hours of sleep each night. HE DISCOVERED in 1962 "my lungs went bad on me" and was unable to return to work a f t e r a short hospitalization. "I couldn't, gpt no brpath" Richardson recalls. "I a i n ' t never been able to do a t h i n g since then. For five years. 1 spit up coal dust that, looked like big black cotton balls." Morris, a 64-year-old resident of nearby Fayette County, began experiencing breathing difficulties in 1938. "I can't eat but one meal a day." Morris said in his breathless, rasping voice. "I can't remember what it feels like to go through a day without pain." Sen. Jennings Randolph. D-W. Va., says that black lung victims inhabit every state of the union, with 3.000 benefit recipients living in New Jersey. Rasmussen does not c^st the coal industry as th'e only heavy. "It all reverts back to the union (United Mine Workers)," he said. "It is possible to eradicate this disease right now in this country as the Autralians have . . . providing there's enough pressure brought to bear on the industry. "That can only come," he charged, "if the union gets off its backside and sees to it that the industry adheres to the 1965 law.' 1 THE TROUBLED union refutes this. P'ormer UMW vice president George Tiller says. "The current union administration has more than lived up to its obligation of fighting for miner health and safety. The coal industry is safer now than it has ever been. The past track record has been a frustrating one for many '.rimers and their families. Of the thousands of claims filed in West Virginia in recent years, about 45 per cent have been approved. In Kentucky, only 33 per cent of the benefit applications made have met with success. "Coa! miners are not the type of people to try to get away with something..' Rep. Ken Hechler, D-W. Va., told a Senate subcommittee. "Tco many miners and widows filing for beneftts have told me they're made to fe^J they are on one side of a lawsuit with the U.S. government on the other side." · The frustration has led to a new phenomenon here--black lung activism. "OUR ORGANIZATION is tired of having the stricken miner ignored," West Virginia Black Lung Association president Arnold Miller explained. "We were formed to see to it these men who gave up their health and lives receive a fair deal." Soon, the UMW will hold a court-ordered election to choose n new international leadership and, according to Miller, the 30 black lung association chapters in eight states are alroady gearing up. "We'll soon control our union," Miller claimed. Besides Hechler. the association has received considerable support from Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Sen. Randolph, fellow West Virginian Democrats. Byrd, a child of the coalfields, has not forgotten his beginnings. "I have helped to carry coal miners to their graves on the rugged West Virginia hillsides," he said. "I have stood in the homes of weeping widows and I have seen the tesrs of their children. "Whatever we do . . . . we will, in my judgement, not be too much. If anything, it may be too little for the disabled miners and their families." f EX-MINER ERNIE MORRIS Hopes for Blapk Lung Aid

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