- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 23, 2004

CUMBERLAND, Md. — When Army reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company are welcomed home today at a belated public ceremony, the loudest cheers likely will come from the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, who say they’re heeding their vow to never again let one generation of veterans be shunned by another.

Seven members of the 372nd were accused of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and the Vietnam vets say they want the community to embrace the company’s other soldiers, who they believe have been unfairly treated.

“It was only a small percentage that did what they did, yet this town was descended on by 19 or 20 different TV channels from all around the world, and all they wanted to talk about was what had happened at Abu Ghraib, and you can’t do that,” said Roger Krueger, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 172.

The unit’s other members are “the good guys,” Mr. Krueger said. “They should be proud of what they’vedone.”

He and other Vietnam vets say they know firsthand about ostracism. Mr. Krueger, who spent 21/2 years in Vietnam and Southeast Asia with the Army in the early 1970s, said that when he returned, he found he had lost his old job at a civilian-run base exchange at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas.

“I guess we weren’t fit for dealing with the public because of the perception some people had about Vietnam vets,” he said.

Stephen Parsons, a chapter board member, ticks off the stereotypes: “We were baby killers, we were hoodlums, we were junkies, we were dope addicts, we fought in a war that we shouldn’t have been in.”

Mr. Parsons, a former Marine, said innocent members of the 372nd likely will face discrimination because of the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

“All they’re going to be remembered for — and maybe not just them, maybe everybody — in years to come, they’re going to talk about this and say, ‘Oh, yeah, that was the one where they tortured all the prisoners,’” he said.

Staff Sgt. Sean L. Davis of Fort Ashby, W.Va., said he hasn’t experienced disapproval, at least from local residents, since he returned with most of the unit’s 180 members in early August after nearly 11/2 years away.

Still, he feels slighted, he said, because the honorable things his unit did in Iraq — training Iraqi police officers, protecting civilian contractors — have been obscured by the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Sgt. Davis said the decision to forgo a public homecoming seven weeks ago was made by the unit’s members, who wanted to rejoin their families without facing reporters. “I don’t think the soldiers, or many of us at the time, were really well equipped to deal with that,” he said.

Now that the press attention has lessened, Sgt. Davis said he is ready for a public ceremony — and humbled by the Vietnam vets’ attention.

“Those guys, in my mind, went through far worse than what I went through,” he said. “I think thanks coming from a guy like that is undeserved because they’re the real heroes.”

In addition to the seven enlisted soldiers from the Cresaptown-based 372nd who were charged with abuses at Abu Ghraib, at least seven officers have been disciplined.

Twenty-seven other persons, mostly from the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, were accused in an Aug. 25 Army report of complicity.

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