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Veterans share their mixed views on Iraq involvement

Posted: Monday, November 10, 2003

As veterans organizations across America gather Tuesday to pay tribute to men and women who have served and are serving in the military, many will have their minds on the war in Iraq and the many U.S. soldiers dying there in service to their country.

Still others will question America's presence in the Mideast, whether the country should have gone in the first place and if the United States should withdraw, now that Saddam Hussein has been removed from power.

Central Kenai Peninsula veterans from wars past and present shared their thoughts on what it was like to serve, why they did it, and what they believe the nation's military should be doing now.

Bob Jones, who served at the end of the unpopular Vietnam War in the 1970s, does not question that the United States should remain in Iraq.

"We most definitely should be there. We should be doing more. We should've done more to begin with.

"We should have started with Desert Shield in '92 and taken (Saddam) Hussein out then. We wouldn't be having the problems we have now," Jones said.

When Jones enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1972, he said he felt America was in Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism.

"I didn't agree with the Com-munists wanting to take over countries. If that's what the countries wanted, why not let them decide?" he said.

He feels similarly about Iraq.

"If the people want us there, we should stay until it's done -- until they're a democracy," Jones said.

The feelings of two World War II veterans were a bit more undecided.

Asked how he felt about the war in Iraq, former Army Sgt. Clayton Helgeson of Soldotna said, "Some-times good, sometimes bad.

"In a way it's uncalled for," he said of the U.S. presence there.

"They've been fightin' for years. I don't think they'll ever stop fightin'. And you don't know how many people there are still for Hussein."

Helgeson, who fought with an army tank battalion from D-Day in Belgium until the end of the war in Germany, said, "We've almost got to stay now ... if we could just get some of the other nations to help us."

Sam Huddleston, who spent six years in the Navy on warships in the South Pacific, is opposed to the current U.S. presence in Iraq, but he does not have an answer to what the United States should do now.

"A lot better heads than mine can't answer that either," Huddle-ston said.

"At first it was the right thing to do. We had this information that they had the weapons of mass destruction that never showed up.

"Bush shoulda got some help. Goin' in without the (United Nations) support is gonna come back on us. Now we're getting very little support fixing things in Iraq.

"But I don't think we can pull out now," he said.

When asked if he thought a solution could be found through diplomacy rather than military action, he simply said, "No."

A Sterling man who just returned to the Kenai Peninsula on a 30-day leave from Iraq feels a little differently.

"America is in Iraq to stop terrorism. We are being successful. We make progress every day," said Navy Fireman Jeremy Shedd.

Shedd recalls the destroyer USS Deyo he was aboard shaking as Tomahawk after Tomahawk missile was fired toward its target in Baghdad at the onset of the war early this year.

In the first day of the bombardment of Iraq, the Deyo fired eight Tomahawk missiles at the capital city. Within the first week a total of 27 were fired from the ship, according to Shedd.

Coming from a long line of Navy sailors, Shedd said he knew right after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, America would be going to war.

He recalls being on his way to the Job Corps office in Kenai when he heard about the attack and instead decided to enlist.

"We've been over there (in the Mideast) since Sept. 11 and we haven't backed off," Shedd said.

"Every day we learn new things that give us an idea of where the Taliban is setting up or where they are hiding. We hit a lot of their mountain caves with Tomahawks.

"Osama bin Laden and Hussein are in hiding -- scared out of their minds. If we don't stay till we get them, they'll just come back," he said.

Although he is somewhat disappointed that America's allies are not supporting the efforts in Iraq, Shedd said his ship was shown overwhelming gratitude when it docked in Israel.

"We tied up in Israel and we weren't allowed to leave the ship, but the Israeli Navy asked if they could show their gratitude by throwing a party for us.

"The admirals OK'd it, and about 200 of us went to this secured location where they had this great party for us," he said.

Shedd believes America should stay in Iraq until the country is stabilized.

He is scheduled return to Iraq in January aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington.

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