Vietnam Vets to Vote on Iraq Troop Surge
Saturday, February 3, 2007; 1:03 PM
WASHINGTON -- Four senators who will vote this week on putting more troops in Iraq bear the scars of another war in another time, in a place called Vietnam. Three will vote against sending more troops. One will vote the other way.
John McCain, a former Navy fighter pilot, was captured by the Vietnamese, tortured and imprisoned for more than five years. Knowing what it is like to have fought before and lost, he is with President Bush on sending 21,500 more troops to Iraq.
Chuck Hagel, an infantryman in Vietnam, was seriously wounded by an enemy mine explosion beneath the armored personnel carrier he and his brother were in. He opposes the troop increase.
So does Senate newcomer Jim Webb, an ex-Marine who speaks Vietnamese, who opposed the Iraq war from the outset and campaigned for the Senate wearing the combat boots of a son who recently went off to the war.
"Welcome to hell," he wrote in March 2003, the month of the U.S. invasion. "Many of us lived it in another era."
Webb, 60, a Democrat from Virginia, was wounded while commanding a Marine rifle company during some of Vietnam's bloodiest fighting, in the An Hoa Basin west of Danang. He had shrapnel lodged in his left knee, left arm, back of the head and right kidney. Webb said the experience changed him.
"I was probably older when I was 24 than I am right now," he said years after the war.
John Kerry, a Vietnam veteran as well as a Vietnam war protester, also opposes sending more troops into Iraq.
Senators next week are to consider a nonbinding measure expressing disagreement with Bush's plan to augment the forces in Iraq.
All four of the decorated, one-time warriors, the most outspoken of the Senate's Vietnam-era military veterans, have brought their experiences and passion about Vietnam to a debate that is already packed with emotion.
McCain, the son and grandson of Navy admirals, was captured after his plane was shot down while on a bombing run over Hanoi in October 1967. The then-31-year-old, who landed in a lake with both arms and a leg broken, spent the next 5 1/2 years enduring torture and solitary confinement.
He used his memory of books and movie classics like "Casablanca" to keep his spirit alive, despite two suicide attempts after his captors tried to beat a confession out of him. Both times he was caught and beaten again.