Terror attacks are not forgotten
Posted September 11, 2007

Six years after Sept. 11, 2001, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan divide nation, Fox Valley By Steve Wideman
Post-Crescent staff writer

Jon and Kay St. John still struggle with the pain caused by the death of their son, Army Pfc. Jon St. John II, who was killed Jan. 27 near Baghdad.

The Neenah couple, however, remain resolute in their support for American military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. "If they split before they get the job done it would all be for naught. All those soldiers would have died for nothing," Jon St. John said Monday.

Six years have passed since the Sept. 11 terror attacks that spurred U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and Army Gen. David Petraeus testified before Congress on Monday that the Bush administration plans to reduce the number of soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq by about 30,000 by next summer.

Anti-war Democrats were unimpressed, and just like the deep divisions in Washington, Fox Cities residents are split over the wisdom of our military response and whether the invasion of Iraq was an appropriate response to the attacks.

People on both sides of the issue are passionate, and their commitment to their causes leaves Americans at odds with each other.

Take Del Schwaller. The 83-year-old Air Force veteran from ******on who served in North Africa and Italy during World War II, says the Sept. 11 attacks were an obvious response to the U.S. government's propensity to meddle in other countries' affairs.

"I surely don't favor anything like that, but it was quite obvious that we're stirring the pot," he said.

The U.S. government quickly jumped to place blame on one group, he said, and its invasion of Iraq was driven by anger and greed.

"From the beginning, I've felt that this was a matter of vengeance rather than justice," Schwaller said. "We've already taken many, many more lives in this action than happened Sept. 11, which of course was a horrible thing, but more violence just does not solve problems."

Schwaller's view is rejected by those like the St. Johns, who said their son joined the Army knowing he likely would be sent to Iraq. He was killed while delivering medical supplies to an Iraqi village.

"People who are calling for the U.S. to pull out have short memories of those terrorists going through their complex plan to steal those planes and crash them into the Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon," said the elder St. John.

"You also can't forget the fourth plane that crashed in a farm field, but was probably headed for the White House.

"The terrorists are not going to go away. If we don't fight them over there, we'll be fighting them in our backyards. It's just amazing how quickly people forget."

Marlene Cops of Greenville, who is active in the ******on Military Support Group that serves the families of soldiers on active duty, said she believes in keeping the U.S. military in Iraq.

"We are doing good over there and should keep on going," Cops said. "I went to the Green Bay Packers game on Sunday and there were a lot of military personnel there. I talked to one sailor in uniform who is in basic training. He said he expects to go to Iraq once he graduates and feels we are doing good by getting the government and the country in general back on their feet. I feel the same way."

Cops said she will never forget the images of Sept. 11.

"I was so mad," Cops said. "I was so angry because how dare they do that to our country? It made me want to go over and fight."

Gary Forrest of ******on, a Vietnam War veteran, said he walks the middle between the two sides. He points out his support for the troops serving overseas, but says, "I would really like to see the guys come home."

Forrest, 58, served with the Army in the infantry and spent 245 days of his yearlong Vietnam tour of duty in 1971 and 1972 in the field.

"It's a tough issue," Forrest said. "There is nothing more I wanted when I was in Vietnam than to come home. I think that in Iraq, like in Vietnam, we do not have proper leadership. I'm thinking this is not a good venture anymore."

Forrest said he thinks that like Vietnam, restrictions placed on soldiers in combat, part of the military's rules of engagement, hamper the military in achieving goals.

"In Vietnam, we used to get hit by mortar attacks every night, but we were in an area where we officially couldn't fight back," he said.

News accounts of body counts in Iraq disturb Forrest.

"The war in Iraq, as I see it in the news, is getting very graphic. There is almost daily talk about the body count. I can't help but think we are going there (Vietnam war strategy) all over again," said Forrest, a life member of the Disabled American Veterans group. "Do I support our soldiers? Absolutely. But it's the same festering mess we had in Vietnam."

"I think we should have come home after Saddam Hussein was pulled out of his spider hole. It's such an awful tragedy when someone from a small town like (Pfc.) Nic Riehl from Shiocton gets killed. They are never forgotten. We are taking the best of our best young kids."

Anita Kapp of ******on spent last week sewing a dozen "cool ties" that she plans to give to the ******on Military Support Group to ship to soldiers in Iraq. The cool ties — tubes sewn from a piece of cloth 45 inches long and 7 inches wide — are filled with a polymer substance that soaks up water.

"The soldiers wear them around their head or on their neck to keep them cool," Kapp said. "I sew them with camouflage cloth so they can use them in the desert."

Kapp, who is past president of the state American Legion Auxiliary, said her late husband, Sherman, served in World War II with the Army Air Corps.

One son served in the military during the Vietnam War and she is a believer is getting the job done militarily in Iraq.

"We should put a little more pressure on the Iraqi leadership and people to take over responsibility for their country much faster than they are," Kapp said.

Kapp compared a sudden pullout of U.S. military personnel from Iraq to pulling the bottom cards out of a house of cards.

"I'd be glad to see our boys come home, but I'd hate to see them have to go back again if we didn't get the job done," she said. "Let's stay and get it over with now."

Jim Bowman, a five-year member of the Fox Valley Peace Coalition and a Vietnam veteran, said the U.S. government hasn't yet hit upon a plan that will help the citizens of Iraq rebuild and become independent.

The situation in Iraq is continuing to deteriorate, he said, for as some regions in the country stabilize, others are in shambles.

"We think the occupation is undermining the ability of Iraqis to take charge of their own nation," said Bowman, 62, of ******on. "We need an exit strategy, a big picture about what we need to do to end the occupation and put the Iraqis back in charge of their own government."

Steve Wideman: 920-993-1000, ext. 302, or swideman@postcrescent.com. Post-Crescent staff writers Kate McGinty and Kara Patterson contributed to this report.