Michael Mayo / South Florida Sun-Sentinel – 2005-07-03 23:51:48
HOLLYWOOD, Florida (June 29, 2005) — The televisions at VFW Post 2500 in Hollywood were tuned to President Bush on Tuesday, but his words weren’t getting rapt attention.
About 30 people were around the bar drinking, chatting, smoking as the president talked. “Does it have to be so loud?” asked Barbara Flint as she sat next to Jerry Giblock, a visiting Vietnam veteran.
“He’s running scared,” said Giblock, 63, a former Post 2500 member who lives in Anchorage, Ala. “His poll numbers are so low, he’s got to say something, but the support is gone. It’s gone. I don’t think there’s anybody in here who’s behind him.”
Tuesday was spaghetti dinner night at the hall on Dixie Highway, where $4 got you a nice plate with meatballs and garlic bread. Post commander Richard McDonald pointed to a sign hanging above the bar: “It’s not the price you paid to join. It’s the price you paid to be eligible.”
These veterans have fought in foreign wars and struggled after them, which makes them more than eligible to comment on the ongoing war in Iraq. The view inside the faded lounge wasn’t optimistic.
From Charlie Nessl, 89, who fought in World War II at the battle of Midway: “I don’t think we should be there.”
From Bob Artman, 79, a World War II veteran: “I got a bad taste in my mouth. Every time I read about a guy getting killed, I tear up. I didn’t feel this way at the beginning, but now I just don’t see an end to it.”
From Ted Anderson, 73, a Korean War veteran and former police chief in New Jersey: “We still have thousands of troops in the [demilitarized zone] in Korea 50 years after the fact. It’s going to be the same thing 50 years from now in Iraq.”
The last time I came around here, in May 2004, President Bush was about to give a speech about Iraq, and the veterans’ feelings were mixed. Some thought the war justified. Others had nagging feelings of doubt. But this time, as Bush once again spoke to the nation, there was nothing but skepticism about the war’s necessity, and worry about a staying the course.
“When you got people who are willing to strap bombs to themselves and blow themselves up, that’s a hard war to win,” said McDonald, 71, a Korean War vet who voted for the president last year. “I think Bush had the right idea, but now it’s turned into a religious war for some people there. And that’s the worst kind of war to be in.
“The thing is, Bush is committed, so he’s got to stick to his guns. But at some point he’s got to come up with a plan to get out of there because we’re never going to be able to get rid of 100 percent of the terrorists. He’s going to have to pull out, just like Vietnam.”
Said Artman: “I’m a registered Democrat, but even people in his party are now questioning things. They don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. … So many people in this country need things: People are starving, people need health care and medicine. But here we are taking care of people all over the world. How about starting at home?”
Howard Fay, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, ladled meatballs in the kitchen. “I don’t like this war at all,” he said. “Saddam wasn’t doing anything to us. The one we should have been going after with everything is Osama bin Laden.”
Bush invoked bin Laden and Sept. 11 in his speech, stressing the non-Iraqi “terrorists” who have congregated in Iraq to make the country “a central front in the war on terror.”
Said Anderson, who spent nine years in the Navy and Marines: “They just play up on the fear. It used to be the domino theory and stopping communism. There was a picture, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians are Coming. Now it’s ‘The Terrorists are Coming, The Terrorists are Coming.’ After 9-11, I think we overreacted a little bit. We’re not using our heads.”
These veterans know war is never simple or easy, and they say this president, who never saw combat, overlooked these things in his rush to invade Iraq and install democracy.
“I have no respect for this president,” said Bud Lynch of Hallandale, a Korean War veteran. “He’s just trying to finish Daddy’s job. That’s all this was about. There was no nuclear [expletive] or WMDs to begin with … If it were my son who was being sent over there, I wouldn’t let him go.”
Said Nessl: “These people have no idea what war is like.”
Said Anderson: “Korea turned out to be B.S., Vietnam was B.S., and Iraq is B.S. It’s all political. All these people are dying in vain … I was in for nine years, so don’t go waving a flag in my face and say I’m not being patriotic.”
Bush heard applause as he finished at Fort Bragg, but there wasn’t a ripple at Post 2500.
“I go to a VA Hospital in Anchorage for my medicine and I’m seeing a lot of new people in there every time,” said Giblock. “We have an Army base and an Air Force base nearby, and they’re getting MedVac’ed back in [from Iraq] all the time. I’m seeing people in wheelchairs, people missing limbs, people with burns. That’s the part they don’t show on the news.”
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