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Georgia’s 48th Brigade helps ensure safe return of refugees — July 22, 2001

Copyright 2001 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
The Macon Telegraph
July 22, 2001, Sunday

KR-ACC-NO: K5617
LENGTH: 2251 words
HEADLINE: Georgia’s 48th Brigade helps ensure safe return of Bosnian refugees
BYLINE: By Drew Brown

KULAGRAD, Bosnia-Herzegovina _ Staff Sgt. James Ross and his six-man squad watched as two Muslims hauled rubble from the ruins of a house in this hillside village.

Hadzic Siban, 45, shoveled debris into a cart. His nephew Zekereja Siban pushed each load up a gangplank and dumped it into a battered pickup truck.

“I don’t see how they do it,” said Ross, a lanky 33-year-old trooper with the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade. “If it was me, I don’t think I could do it. “There are people here who would slit their throats in a minute if they could. It takes a brave person to return to something like this.”

A victim of “ethnic cleansing,” Hadzic Siban fled the area with his Muslim neighbors when Serb paramilitary forces stormed the village in a campaign of murder and terror that sparked the 1992-95 Bosnian civil war. The Serbs destroyed Siban’s home, along with most Muslim dwellings in the area.

The intent of ethnic cleansing is that victims will stay away if they have nothing to return to.

But now, everywhere around these lush hills, new homes are under construction as former residents return to rebuild their lives.

“I feel safe now,” Hadzic Siban said through an interpreter. “Besides, where else can I go? This is my home.”

Halfway into a six-month peacekeeping stint in Bosnia, Ross and his fellow soldiers are the reason Siban and his neighbors have come back. Because of the soldiers’ daily patrols in recent months, Siban said, mwe’re dealing with now are the hard returns, where we have to evict someone in order to establish the safe environment to which refugees can return home.”

Such tasks often are daunting for soldiers like Ross, a Macon resident who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

“This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’m a war fighter, not a peacekeeper, so this is hard for me.”

A Sunday morning last month started like any other as Ross led a two-vehicle patrol from Camp Comanche, one of three main bases where U.S. troops are stationed.

Within 20 minutes of leaving Comanche, Ross’s squad encountered a crowd that had set up a roadblock to prevent traffic from moving through its neighborhood.

The Americans were dismantling nearby Camp Dobol as part of a gradual reduction of U.S. forces. Traffic to and from Dobol had been routed for weeks onto a gravel road that ran through a small cluster of houses.

White dust blanketed fields and homes alongside the road. A hand-lettered sign at the barricade declared in Serbo-Croatian: “We want to breathe clean air!”

The soldiers drove their Humvees past a long line of trucks and cars that had begun to back up in front of the barricade. Spc. Elysha Wood of Lawrenceville watched calmly from his gun turret.

“It looks like they’re blocking the road because of the dust,” Wood said.

The roadblock posed a problem for Ross and his squad. The Dayton agreement guarantees freedom of movement throughout the Federation and the Republic of Srpska. About 50 people milled about the barricade under the blazing sun.

Ross told his driver, Cpl. Ted Yrizzary of Atlanta, to ease the Humvee forward. Ross called in a report on his radio, then got out of the vehicle to investigate. Yrizzary joined him a few minutes later, an M-16 rifle slung over his shoulder.

A thin, middle-aged man, Ramiz Jajcevic, stood in the road. He pointed at his wife and two young children standing at a nearby fence.

“These are my children,” Jajcevic told Ross through an interpreter. “All of this dust goes down in their lungs and makes it difficult for them to breathe. It is not healthy for them.”

Ross replied that the Dayton accord left him no choice but to open the road.

“I live on a dirt road,” Ross told Jajcevic. “So I understand your concerns. The U.S. government has promised me for years that they would pave my road, but it hasn’t been done. That still doesn’t give me the right to block my road.

“Now, I am a soldier, and I have a duty, which is to open this road. Will you open this road?”

Jajcevic said residents were tired of the dust and would not move until SFOR fixed the problem.

Ross said he had no authority to make that decision.

“Then I have a solution,” Jajcevic said. “Call someone out here who can make a decision.”

The crowd gathered to hear the exchange. The line of vehicles stretched into the distance.

Ross spoke calmly but firmly, never breaking eye contact.

“We’ve got to clear this road,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. We’ve got to maintain freedom of movement.”

A man stepped up and identified himself as the local police chief. He and other police officers sympathized with the residents and would not force them to remove the roadblock. A group of local policemen and Finnish observers watched from nearby.

Ross paused for a moment, then spoke to the police chief. The Finnish soldiers moved in quietly to listen.

“Look, I’m not a politician,” he said. “I’m just a soldier trying to do a job, and these people are hindering me from doing my job. I understand his complaints, but I’ve got a job to do. Please help me do it.”

The discussion continued for several minutes. Finally, they compromised. Ross promised to have his battalion commander meet with Jajcevic and the police chief if they would remove the roadblock immediately.

The chief said he did not want a confrontation. Ross handed the chief his commander’s phone number and promised that the officer would call later to arrange a meeting.

“I’m trying to do the diplomatic thing,” he said. “But I’m just a soldier on the ground.”

The police chief ordered the roadblock removed, but warned he could not prevent further trouble.

“Please understand,” he said. “We may do this again.”

Everyone shook hands. Traffic flowed. A few people honked and waved.

Ross’s squad gave Coca-Colas, egg biscuits and bananas to Jajcevic and his family. They accepted the gifts graciously. The police chief offered cigarettes all around. Most adults in Bosnia smoke.

“These people have a gripe and a grievance,” Yrizzary said. “You can’t blame them. But the bottom line is, come on, you gotta act like people.”

Ross described the situation as the most difficult he has faced so far in Bosnia.

“We could’ve cleared this road. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “But we’re here to keep the peace, not start another war.

“I was prepared to stand there and talk until I was blue in the face and he was blue in the face, if that’s what it took. Now, everyone is going away happy with what they want.”

The patrol continued on and stopped at a sprawling, open-air market dubbed “Virginia” by SFOR troops. The market straddles the border between the Federation and the Republic of Srpska.

There are several border markets in Bosnia along the former front lines. When the fighting ended, SFOR encouraged the establishment of markets as a sort of safe zone, where people separated by the war could meet old friends, neighbors and family.

The markets have since evolved into some of the largest open-air bazaars in southern Europe. It is not uncommon, according to American troops, to see customers from many neighboring countries and even as far away as Germany. The markets bear the names of U.S. states.

Ross and his squad stroll through the market occasionally, always armed, as much to establish a presence as to check out the local merchandise.

On this Sunday, fruit and vegetable stands were crammed alongside kitchen appliances, furniture, clothing, compact discs and porn tapes. A woman under a roadside umbrella cooked cevapcici, a grilled sausage that is the national dish.

Out on the road, gleaming new BMWs jostled for position with horse-drawn wagons and fuel trucks. Rap music mingled with the vaguely Middle Eastern strains of traditional Bosnian songs.

“They only do this on Sunday,” Ross said. “By noon, it will all be gone.”

Some people waved to the soldiers. Others glared. A few people shouted hello. Others muttered insults. After all, Ross and his squad were now on the border with the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republic of Srpska, where they are just as likely to get the middle finger as a smile.

Many Serbs distrust the Americans, the soldiers said, because they believe America blames their entire ethnic group for starting the war.

Most historical accounts of the war blame it on former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other Serb nationalists who wanted to carve a “Greater Serbia” out of the six republics of the former Yugoslavia.

Two million Serbs were living outside of Serbia when Yugoslavia fell apart in 1990. When Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, its government sought to create a multi-ethnic society where Muslims, Croats and Serbs shared equal rights.

But when Bosnian Serb nationalists, under the control of Radovan Karadzic, took up arms against the government, Milosevic provided them with weapons and direct military support. Serb paramilitary groups seized half of the country, killing or driving Muslims and Croats from most areas. The process became known as ethnic cleansing.

Croat nationalists in western Bosnia carried out a similar war against Muslims and Serbs until signing a pact with the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government in 1994. The Dayton Peace Agreement ended the fighting.

Ross and his squad stopped for lunch in Zvornik, a town on the Drina River across the border from Serbia. The village of Kulagrad lies in the hills above Zvornik.

Much of the Drina Valley was Muslim before the war, but now the region belongs to Bosnian Serbs who displaced them during the war.

Some people waved at the Americans. Most were indifferent. A young boy ran out and slapped Ross a high-five as the patrol passed.

Ross and his squad acknowledged they really do not understand the Bosnian conflict and just wish they were back in Georgia.

Ross said he missed his girlfriend, Christy Richardson of Milledgeville. They plan to marry as soon as he returns.

“I know I got a job to do,” he said. “But I’m really ready to go home.”

On the way back to camp, the patrol stopped at a mass grave site near the village of Sapna.

About 300 bodies were exhumed at the site last summer and buried in proper graves with markers. The names and dates on the wooden markers identified them as young and old, men and women. All were Muslim, victims of mass murder. Their resting place lay unmarked for years.

Each side committed atrocities during the war. A war crimes tribunal was established at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1993 to prosecute the crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia.

The tribunal has indicted 100 people so far. About 25 remain at large, including Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, his military commander. They are wanted in part for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, where as many as 10,700 Muslims were murdered.

About a third of the graves near Sapna bear only a number. Those are the dead who will never be identified.

Ross walked slowly past the rows of the dead.

The clay atop each grave was baked hard by the sun. Weeds sprouted from cracks. A rusting spade lay on a mound of earth in front of one marker.

“If it were up to me, I’d indict every one of them,” he said, referring to the killers.

“I wish my mother could see this,” he continued. “Then she might understand why I am here. When people ask why I’m here, it’s to stop things like this from happening again.”

Ross paused and looked at the distant hills.

“This was not war,” he said. “This was just slaughter. This was not combat. This was just murder.”


Remains of Sailor Killed in Vietnam to be Returned after 33 Years — June 8, 2001

Remains of Sailor Killed in Vietnam to be Returned after 33 Years

June 8, 2001
Drew Brown
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WARNER ROBINS, Ga.–Joe Young and Jan Young Tadeo recall with striking clarity the day 33 years ago when the tall, young naval officers came striding across the yard.

They were 10 and 12 at the time, playing with a few other children at a back yard fish fry when they spotted the sailors walking toward them with their mother.

Joe and Jan began to run towards the men. One of them, they were certain, was their older brother Tony, a 23-year-old sailor who had shipped off to Vietnam the year before.

“I went into a panic when I realized it wasn’t him,” Joe recalled, tears welling at the memory. “My mother just collapsed. The naval officer had told her that our brother was MIA (missing in action) and presumed dead.”

The rest of that summer, Jan remembers, passed “in a state of shock.”

The family’s grief was compounded by the fact that there was no one to bury. PCF-19, the patrol craft or “swift boat” on which Tony Chandler served, had been sunk off the coast of Vietnam. His body was not recovered.

For more than three decades, each member of the Young family has carried this silent burden.

“Not knowing,” Jan said, “has got to be the most absolute worst thing in the world.”

Now perhaps the family will find a measure of the peace that has eluded them for so long.

Earlier this year, a military forensic team identified a bone fragment unearthed nearly a decade ago as Anthony G. Chandler’s remains. The family received notice a month ago of the news. They plan to hold a burial service at Centerville (Ga.) City Cemetery on June 16, the 33rd anniversary of Chandler’s death

“There’s a certain amount of dread going through all of us right now,” Jan said. “But there’s also a sense of peace knowing there’s finally a resolution.”

Four other men were killed in the 1968 incident. One of them was lost at sea and is still listed as missing. There were two survivors, both badly wounded. The sole living survivor, John Davis, skipper of PCF-19, plans to speak at the funeral.

Tony Chandler’s final homecoming has become a poignant event for the close-knit community of former swift boat sailors. Fewer than 3,000 served on patrol craft during the war, they say. Fifty-three of them were killed, according to the Swift Boat Sailors Association. The loss of each was keenly felt.

“There is no doubt this is the last swift boat KIA (killed in action) we’ll see buried in our lifetime,” said Dave Wallace, of Atlanta, director of the Swift Boat Sailors Association.

Wallace said he hopes the burial brings peace to the family.

“Every one of us lost friends over there,” he said. “But if there’s no resolution, if the body’s never recovered or something like that, it just doesn’t end. And so, this allows the family to say, ‘OK, it’s finally over.'”

By all accounts, Tony Chandler was a handsome, popular young man who excelled at everything he did.

He was an excellent athlete, according to his brother Joe. He was a superb pistol shot and particularly loved western-style revolvers. He was an avid hunter and fisherman.

“He taught me how to bait my first hook,” Joe said.

Tony loved fast cars. He owned a 1964 Chevy Impala and tore up the local drag-racing circuit. He loved practical jokes. He was popular with the girls.

“He was quite a ladies’ man,” Joe said. “He was one of the few people I know who had girls coming to the house to get him instead of him having to beat the bushes for them.”

Both Jan and Joe adored their older brother.

“My parents swear I said his name before I said ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy,'” said Jan, who now lives in Snellville, Ga. “He was my hero. I thought he hung the moon, and in many ways, he’s still my hero.”

But Jan remembers catching a glimpse of her hero’s vulnerable side soon after he received his draft notice in 1965. That year President Lyndon Johnson had announced a massive buildup in Vietnam.

“I remember walking in on him when he was in the bathroom, and he was crying,” she recalled. “That was when the realization hit me that my brother was getting sent to Vietnam.”

But rather than be drafted into the Army, Tony decided to follow the footsteps of his stepfather Jack, a retired Navy man. He enlisted as a boatswain’s mate and underwent swift boat training at Coronado, Calif.

When he was sent to Vietnam in 1967, Chandler was assigned to the coastal patrol squadron which performed picket duty along the coast of South Vietnam. Swift boats were used to interdict enemy troops and supplies infiltrating from North Vietnam through the maze of waterways that lace the country and empty into the South China Sea.

Davis, his former skipper, remembered Chandler as “probably the number-one boatswain’s mate.”

“You never had to tell Chandler to do anything. He was always one step ahead of you,” said Davis, who lives in Ohio. “He was my favorite sailor. The other crewmen were great too, but I kind of liked Chandler the best.”

Chandler was about one month shy of ending his tour on June 15, 1968.

That night, PCF-19 was assigned as the northernmost boat on the picket line, a few kilometers offshore below the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, which served as the line of demarcation between North and South Vietnam.

Shortly after midnight, PCF-19 exploded in a bright flash of light and sank within minutes. The cause of the explosion remains shrouded in mystery.

Marines at “Ocean View,” a coastal outpost directly across from PCF-19 reported what appeared to be North Vietnamese helicopters moving out to sea from above the DMZ. The U.S. government maintains that North Vietnam never used helicopters during the war.

The attack killed Chandler and four other crewmen. Three bodies were recovered. One sailor, Frank Bowman, died as his crew mate, John Anderegg, was trying to pull him into a life raft. He slipped underwater, and his body was never recovered.

Anderegg later committed suicide, said Davis, who lost an eye in the attack.

United Press International reported the next day that PCF-19 had been struck by enemy artillery fire from a shore battery. Davis believes it was an enemy rocket.

But an official investigation ruled a month later that the boat was sunk accidentally by Air Force jets sent to investigate the helicopter sighting. Pilots mistook the boat as an enemy aircraft on their radar, the investigation found. No disciplinary action was ever taken.

The USS Boston and an Australian vessel, HMAS Hobart, were also hit by rockets in the attack, UPI reported. Two Australian sailors were killed and several wounded.

But Jim Steffes, a sailor on nearby PCF-12, is certain that his boat was also attacked by helicopters as they arrived to help look for survivors.

“The official story says they were strafed by machine guns,” said Steffes, who lives in Sun City, Calif. “Well, our jets at that time did not have machine guns. They were hit by rockets. The ones that attacked us hovered over the water about 300 feet out, and we don’t have any jets I know of that can do that. But they’re never going to admit anything.”

Steffes later described what he saw to a sketch artist at the board of inquiry. The drawing the artist produced was of a Russian-made “Hound” helicopter.

“I only described what I saw,” he said. “They said, thank you, Mr. Steffes, and I went out. When the official report came out, it was fixed-wing aircraft.”

For years, the Young family held out hope that Tony had survived and would one day make it home. But eventually, they stopped talking about him, and avoided the subject altogether.

Their mother, Bessie, took Tony’s death particularly hard. And to this day, she finds the subject difficult to talk about, her children say.

Joe remained angry and hurt for nearly three deacades.

“For years, I thought he had died for no reason,” Joe said. “I felt like he was just on a 50-foot boat. How was that important? Why did he have to die?”

The circle began to close in the early 1990s after diplomatic relations began to be re-established between the United States and Vietnam.

According to the Army’s forensic report, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese recovery team traveled in 1993 to Quang Tri Province to investigate the incident. The team interviewed a fisherman who told them he had salvaged metal from the wreck and had recovered a bone fragment which he buried near his home. The fisherman turned over the bone, along with a military identification card which belonged to one of the survivors. A dog tag, which was kept by another man who dived at the wreck, was never recovered.

Two other men interviewed separately in 1993 said they saw PCF-19 as it was struck by coastal artillery fire, but their accounts conflicted in how fast the boat sank and its location.

Recovery teams traveled to the province again in 1994 and 1996, but turned up no further evidence or personal effects.

Bessie Young and Bowman’s mother were asked to provide DNA samples three years ago. Analysis confirmed earlier this year that the 8.5-centimeter bone fragment belonged to Chandler.

“They didn’t tell us that until about a month ago,” Joe said. “They ran them through triple-blind tests and came to the conclusion that this upper left arm bone–and that’s all we’re gonna get–was definitely my mother’s son.”

Jan says she “sees the hand of God” in the chain of events.

“What’s amazing is that they have such a reverence for the dead in their culture, that even though this bone belonged to an enemy, they still buried it,” she said.

Joe says thinking about his brother still makes him “an emotional wreck.” But his anger and bitterness have lessened over the years. Swift boat sailors, veterans of the war have told him, served a crucial role and saved many lives.

“It kind of eases the pain,” Joe said. “Maybe his sacrifice saved other American boys’ lives.”

Davis, the skipper, says he still misses Chandler and thinks of him often.

“It’s a relief in many ways, ” Davis said. “Everybody is accounted for. Everybody is all together now.”

Jan says even her mother has found a bit of peace.

“She says now at least she’ll have a grave to place some flowers on from time to time,” Jan said.

(c) 2001, The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.).

POW Museum Honors Pueblo Crew – April 26, 2001

Copyright 2001 The Macon Telegraph
All Rights Reserved

April 26, 2001 Thursday HOME EDITION

LENGTH: 1062 words
BYLINE: Drew Brown, The Macon Telegraph
They were beaten, tortured and forced to undergo 11 months of humiliation at the hands of their North Korean captors 33 years ago.

Their own government did not consider them prisoners of war until 1989.

They’ve been regarded largely as an unfortunate footnote in the 50-year history of the Cold War.

But the sailors of the USS Pueblo remain confident that one day their country will give them the full recognition they deserve for their service.

And they say a ceremony to honor them Wednesday at the National Prisoner of War Museum has brought them one step closer to their goal.

“It’s the culmination of another effort to find proper recognition for men who served under really terrible conditions, with brutal treatment (and) very little food,” said retired Navy Cmdr. Lloyd “Pete” Bucher, the Pueblo’s skipper.

Outside the museum, Bucher, 73, of San Diego, Calif., and about a dozen other Pueblo crewmen unveiled a bronze plaque that commemorates their ordeal.

The crewmen and their skipper unveiled the plaque alongside similar ones erected by veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The memorial’s installment will help ensure that the Pueblo’s story is not forgotten, said Fred Boyles, superintendent of the Andersonville historic site.

“Forty percent of the visitors who came here last year were schoolchildren,” Boyles said. “And they don’t know a thing about the Pueblo. This is a place where they can learn that history. We can offer future generations the opportunity to learn this remarkable story.”

The USS Pueblo was conducting electronic surveillance in international waters Jan. 23, 1968, when North Korean gunboats and aircraft attacked the unarmed vessel.

The attack killed one crewman and wounded 13 others, two critically. The 82 surviving crewmen were seized and held 11 months before their release.

F. Carl “Skip” Schumacher, the Pueblo’s operations officer, said it soon became apparent that the crew would not be treated as conventional prisoners of war.

“It was clear they expected a military response,” the St. Louis resident said, referring to his captors. “But it became clear after three to five days that there would not be a military response. We realized we had become hostages.”

The North Koreans subjected the Pueblo crew to frequent beatings in the first few days. They were denied food, personal hygiene and medical care for the injured.

Steven Woelk, of McLouth, Kan., was the most critically injured of the crew, with severe shrapnel wounds. He was finally taken to a hospital and treated after two weeks of captivity. He spent 44 days in solitary confinement before he rejoined the rest of the crew.

He thinks of the experience often.

“I really can’t put it into words,” he said. “I look back on the experience and some of the things we did and went through. It was a tough time for us.”

The North Koreans subjected the crew to a punishing regime of interrogation and propaganda. Bucher realized that he and the crew had enormous value as hostages in the political drama being played out in negotiations for their release. He decided the men would do whatever they could to undermine the North Koreans’ propaganda efforts.

Bucher and the crew used American slang and Navy lingo to convey messages that would be understood at home, but not by their captors.

In a famous incident, crew members were photographed displaying a universal hand gesture that they told their captors was the “Hawaiian good luck” symbol.

In another incident, the crew issued statement in which they described how “we were all eager to pee on” North Korea, its people and leader Kim Il Sung, and the country’s army and navy, Bucher said.

They told their captors the phrase was one of affection. The statement was broadcast all over the world.

“It was a great happenstance to me,” Bucher said.

Eventually, the North Koreans caught on to what the Pueblo crew was up to and subjected them to a regimen of beatings so severe that the men still refer to it as “Hell Week.”

Despite the abuse, the crew felt a great measure and pride and redemption.

“The beatings that were the worst hurt the least because we knew that’s when we were getting their goat,” Bucher said.

The men credit Bucher for keeping them together as a crew during the long ordeal.

“I can honestly say if it were not for his leadership, we of the Pueblo would not be here today,” Schumacher said.

They say that Wednesday’s ceremony was a way of honoring him more than anything else.

“Bucher is still the soul of the crew,” said Bob Hill, of Salisbury, Md., a 19-year-old boatswain’s mate at the time of his captivity.

“There is a lot of love and respect there that will never go away.”

After their release Dec. 23, 1968, the Pueblo crew was awarded 12 medals for heroism during their captivity and 97 medals for individual resistance efforts. They were each awarded the Purple Heart for the beatings they underwent.

But the Navy considered a court martial for Bucher for allowing the Pueblo to fall into enemy hands. He was criticized for not resisting the attack, scuttling the ship or destroying more classified material.

Bucher said he actually pushed for a court martial in an effort to clear his name. But he thinks the Navy never intended to allow one to happen.

A trial would have revealed how the Navy brass, the Pentagon and the intelligence community all failed to act on indications that the Pueblo was at risk of attack, he said.

“There were some areas where they should have given us better support and they didn’t,” Bucher said. “They didn’t want that to come out.”

Bucher and crew members say the recent standoff between China and the United States over China’s detention of 24 Navy members of a damaged surveillance plane brought back poignant memories.

“I don’t think there was a heck of a lot else that could have been done in this instance,” he said.

Bucher said he is still angry at the way high-level mistakes which led to the Pueblo’s capture have been covered up or remain classified.

But he feels confident the full truth of the Pueblo incident will come out and that its crew will get their due.

“All that information is bound to come out,” he said. “But whether it comes out in my lifetime or not, I don’t know.”