U.S. military officials call halt to tradition of victors' souvenirs
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    U.S. military officials call halt to tradition of victors' souvenirs

    U.S. military officials call halt to tradition of victors' souvenirs

    By Kristen Green

    May 10, 2003

    To the victor, the spoils.

    Since ancient Rome, troops have returned from war with bags of booty.

    American servicemen brought home knives from Korea and Nazi helmets from Germany. They returned from Vietnam with traditional dresses and, legend has it, the ears of enemy soldiers.

    U.S. military policy has long forbidden personnel from collecting war souvenirs. But officials often looked the other way while soldiers packed pistols in their bags or shipped home machine guns wrapped in newspapers.

    "There were technically no rules," said Patrick O'Donnell, a World War II historian.

    But after the war in Iraq, top military officials are warning service members not to bring souvenirs home and to be ready to have their bags searched by military police.

    "We're not taking anything," said Navy Lt. Charles Owens with the U.S. Central Command in Qatar.

    Local veterans say they weren't surprised by the crackdown. They say they believe the military couldn't afford any more bad publicity after announcing that four U.S. soldiers were suspected of taking $900,000 in cash from a Baghdad palace and after U.S. forces failed to prevent the looting of Iraq's National Museum in Baghdad.

    Opinions are mixed on whether the ban is good policy or just good public relations.

    Robert Goit, a retired Marine who keeps a samurai sword in the closet of his Clairemont home, says it's time to ban war booty.

    Goit cherishes the souvenir he brought back from the Pacific theater after World War II. He was 21 when he took the sword from the body of a slain soldier, but now he said he sees the error of his ways.

    "I think that's a good policy. I really do," Goit said. "It'll make a better impression on the Iraqis."

    But Wayne Smith, a Navy veteran, said the items service members bring back have significance.

    "It's not really a souvenir," he said. "It's a piece of history."

    Customs inspectors at airports in Boston and the Washington, D.C., area have found paintings and gold-plated weapons, as well as other historical pieces, during searches of U.S. citizens returning from war.

    The military was responsible for only part of the workload four out of six cases under investigation by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement involve employees of news agencies.

    An engineer for Fox News Channel, Benjamin J. Johnson, was charged with smuggling after he failed to declare 12 paintings, including portraits of Saddam Hussein and his son Odai, that he brought back from Baghdad. He was fired.

    Michael Parks, director of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Journalism, said reporters shouldn't bring anything back from Iraq.

    "War booty may be a military tradition, but it's not a journalistic tradition," he said.

    In another incident, agents seized a package shipped to Fort Stewart, Ga., by a U.S. soldier. It included two gold-plated weapons as well as swords, knives and pistols.

    "The history of the country is literally being stolen," said Kevin Bell, a public affairs officer for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    His agency has begun an investigation, Operation Iraqi Heritage, to catalog and locate missing artifacts. About 700 pieces have been recovered.

    The controversy over war souvenirs, and its suggestion that soldiers were engaged in looting that terrified Baghdad residents, is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many veterans.

    "We went over there to free the country, not to steal from the country," said Lyle Gaeth, who served in the Air Force.

    "I really don't think they need to bring anything back. They should leave it right where it is."

    Smith, the Navy veteran, said such behavior is sometimes expected. If one soldier kills another, he should be able to take his aggressor's belongings, he said. "In combat, it's either you or him. He would do the same thing to you. Anything you can get your hands on, you should be entitled to bring back."

    Over time, the most popular souvenirs have been uniforms and gear of the opposition, and a range of weaponry. The samurai sword was the ultimate item to bring back because "it symbolized so much," said O'Donnell, the war historian.

    Veterans use the souvenirs to tell family and friends about their experiences.

    "Each artifact has its own little story," he said.

    But frequently they have little significance for anyone other than the person who collected them. Like a wine cork saved from a cherished date, or a shell from a family trip to the shore, they transport the owner to an indelible moment, O'Donnell said.

    "They're kind of like a time machine," he said.

    There is no way to check the bags of every returning service member, and an assortment of Iraq souvenirs are already popping up on eBay, including Iraqi money.

    George Lopez, manager of the G.I. Joe's Army surplus store in downtown San Diego, predicted that once the troops arrive home, they'll be dropping by.

    "There's always people that don't listen," he said.

    Union-Tribune library researcher Denise Davidson contributed to this report.
    Kristen Green: (619) 542-4576; kristen.green@uniontrib.com

    JOHN GIBBINS / Union-Tribune
    Robert Goit, of Clairemont, who was a Marine in the Pacific theater during World War II, returned with a samurai sword. Such spoils of war have been banned from the Iraq conquest by U.S. military brass.



  2. #2
    Registered User Free Member leroy8541's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    They did this on the first Gulf-War too. We had to dump our Seabags for inspections. I had to give up a 7mm officers side arm from the Republican Guard. Should I feel bad about keeping a bayonnet off of an enemy rifle? I don't!!

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