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'Bring 'em home' supporters say at Memorial Day event

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Published:   |   Updated: May 27, 2013 at 08:00 AM
TAMPA -

A moment of silence for service men and women who gave their lives for this country, and for the missing in action was almost over Sunday morning at a Memorial Day commemoration when Stretch broke ranks and yelled "Bring 'em home."
 
Stretch, who wouldn't divulge his given name, rides with the Vietnam Vets Motorcycle Club. He's about 6 foot 5 inches and wore a leather vest and a black Army beret. He later said his comment referred to bringing everyone home, from prisoners of past wars to remains of those killed in action, to soldiers who may be sent off to fight in future wars.
 
He included troops stationed in Afghanistan now; troops who will be fighting Taliban forces there for at least another year in a war that already has stretched to a dozen years, the longest in U.S. history.
 
"Everyone,"¯ he said, "current, past and future."
 
His comments were echoed by several retired veterans and relatives at the annual Memorial Day observance at the Hillsborough County Veterans Museum Park.
 
Hundreds turned out, many of whom were retired veterans from every branch of the service who served in wars dating back more than a half-century. Some snapped to attention with salutes when the honor guard passed. Others rose more deliberately, age factoring into their movements.
 
Others were unable to rise, but straightened up and offered a salute anyway.
 
Stretch said no matter how long troops are in Afghanistan, victory will remain elusive because battles now are being waged by a military industrial complex which influences public opinion.
 
"My definition of war, at least every war since World War II, is where politicians have failed and business interests have succeeded," he said. "This is not a war anymore."
 
He said the motorcycle club has lobbied for the return of soldiers, alive and dead, from foreign soil and currently is putting pressure on Florida's leaders to proclaim a POW/MIA week.
 
Bringing the troops back from Afghanistan was a common thread Sunday voiced by several retired vets, weary from of reading about U.S. soldiers killed in some remote province by an improvised explosive device. The end result, they say, won't change in a year, so soldiers should come home now.
 
"I say there is no sense in wasting any more time," said Ben Ritter, a Marine veteran who served during the Vietnam War, urging the return of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. "And, as a practical matter, we are running up a $17 trillion debt, money that could be better spent here, on the veterans and on regular Americans."
Ritter sat next to Bill Vickers, an 83-year-old Air Force veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars. He served for 21 years and retired in 1971 and is in favor of bringing the U.S. troops home from Afghanistan.
 
"Immediately," he said, "if not sooner."
 
"It's a tough call,"¯ said John David, a retired Marine who served in the late 1960s. Putting a time and date on a withdrawal is foolish, he said, as the Taliban will just wait till after the U.S. troops pull out before resuming attacks.
 
"When we are going to pull them out should not be general information,"¯ he said. "They [the Taliban] have got all the time and we've got all the watches. The war we are fighting now is just not a winnable war."¯
 
Air Force veteran Robert Radlein served between 1968 and 1972.
Afghanistan, he said, has even become another Vietnam.
"You're dealing with an implacable enemy,"¯ he said. "The North Vietnamese Army, we beat them every time, but when we left, they came back and defeated South Vietnam which was just not equal to the task."¯
 
The same fate looms for Afghanistan, he said.
 
Verdna Kelley is not a retired veteran, but she is a Gold Star Wife. Her husband was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam who came home and was killed in a car wreck in 1974 while still in the service.
 
She sees no sense in allowing troops to risk their lives any longer in the war-torn mountains, villages and cities of Afghanistan.
 
"Let's leave Afghanistan to the Afghanis,"¯ she said.
kmorelli@tampatrib.com
(813) 259-7760


kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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