Friday, April 09, 1999

Vietnam vets wish Kosovo a better fate

Parallels haunt anniversary of memorial

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They're getting to be old soldiers. Those two bronze GIs standing on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Eden Park have been there now for 15 years.

        Vietnam vets, also showing their age in the spring sunlight, rededicated the statues Thursday afternoon. It was the 15th anniversary of the memorial's unveiling.

        Speeches were made. Prayers delivered. Tears shed. And minds were united on the latest news of war.

        Heads throughout the crowd nodded in a knowing silence at the mention of the word, Kosovo.

        The similarities between the war in Vietnam and America's escalating presence in the Balkans escaped no one. And no one wanted to see history repeat itself.

        “They say we have another Vietnam in Kosovo,” Vietnam vet Earl Corell told the 47 people and one dog gathered for the ceremony. “I sure hope the hell not.”

        A Hamilton County sheriff's deputy, Earl Corell went to war in Vietnam in 1970. Ten years later, he came up with the idea for Cincinnati's Vietnam memorial and raised funds for the project.

        Earl thought of rededicating the monument after U.S. missiles slammed into Kosovo.

        “There are so many parallels between Vietnam and Kosovo,” Earl told me as we stood by the memorial before his speech. “We didn't know why we were in Vietnam.

        “And nobody has told us why we are in Kosovo. Or how long we are going to be there and what we hope to accomplish.

        “We don't even know,” he added, “how to spell it.” The Serbs spell it Kosovo. The Albanian version is Kosova. Both words mean “field of blackbirds.”

        Those are the same birds roosting in the pine trees that stand over the Vietnam memorial in Eden Park.

        Earl and the other vets at the park still resembled the bronze soldiers, but they've also aged. If they have hair, it's gray or white. Lines crease their cheeks. And too many tears have followed those creases.

        “Part of me says we should go in there and get that guy, that Milosevic. He's evil,” said Bob Mowl. “You can't get him with bombs and missiles. He'll just keep hiding. But it'll have to be an all-out war. Ground troops. Everything.”

        Gazing at the memorial as he spoke, he turned to look at an adjacent cluster of yellow and white daffodils.

        Bob drives a truck and lives in Sharonville. In the '60s he was an Army man, serving two tours of duty in Vietnam.

        There is another part of Bob that thinks of Kosovo and wants to tell “those politicians in Washington: "Don't send in any ground troops. Get everybody out of there.'”

        That's the part of Bob who went to war in Vietnam and “saw two guys die right in front of me. I had only been in country for two days and had just turned 18.

        “I'd never want anyone to see something like that again.”

        Two things happen to Bob when he thinks of Kosovo and remembers Vietnam.

        “It turns my stomach,” he said, patting his belly.

        “And, I cry.”

        Bob's lower lip quivered. He looked away and wiped his eyes.

        During the ceremony, Jenny Coates walked up with her four children, Dylan and Daniel and twin 5-year-olds, Emma and Anna.

        “The kids are on spring break,” she said. “and I wanted them to see this. It's important not to forget what happened in Vietnam.”

        Memories of the Vietnam war era come back to Jenny whenever she thinks of Kosovo.

        “Just like in Vietnam, they don't know what they're doing in Kosovo. First they say, no ground troops. Now, they're not so sure.”

        She reached for her two boys and ran her fingers through their hair. Dylan, who's 10, and Daniel, who's 8, wiggled and squirmed, as only boys of that age will.

        “As the mother of two sons,” Jenny said, “this stuff scares you to death.

        “I don't want to see them going off to a war that no one knows why we're fighting or knows how to win.”

        Paul Hasan was only 11 years older than Dylan Coates when he went to war in 1966. He was a Marine in Vietnam.

        Today, he works for Hamilton County. On Thursday, he stood in the shade of a pine tree, listened to speeches and tugged on his white beard.

        “I'm here to pay my dues,” he told me. “You must honor the 58,000 people who never made it home from Vietnam.”

        Paul has a dream. He wants this to be the last memorial to war he ever sees. He hopes there's no need to build one “anywhere in this country” for Kosovo.

        Standing with these men, near this statue graced by flowers, I hope with all my heart Paul's dream comes true.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.