On May 2, three soldiers, captured 32 days previously by the Yugoslav army in Macedonia, walked down the ramp of a U.S. Air Force aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to a screaming crowd waving American flags. According to the Army News Service, they were even escorted down the ramp by the 1st Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. David Grange.

For these soldiers, the days that followed were punctuated by the receipt of medals, interviews by the media, a parade, rejoining their loved ones flown to Germany, more media interviews and the president of the United States appearing on national television to welcome them back.

While much of the above was taking place -- on May 5 exactly -- two other American soldiers became casualties in that same Balkans operation; in fact, they died when their Apache helicopter crashed in Albania [news story, May 6]. It was 16 days later, on May 21, that I was reminded of their sacrifice by the media -- the European edition of Stars and Stripes. The day before, Chief Warrant Officer David Gibbs of Massillon, Ohio, had been buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. The honors, if any, bestowed on his co-pilot, Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Reichert of Chetek, Wis., who died with him, weren't mentioned in the article. I double-checked your paper to see if I overlooked its coverage of the funeral; I failed to find any.

I guess we have heard a lot about the three returning POWs because their return was met with smiles and expressions of joy from their families -- a positive event. The return of dead soldiers is usually a somber occasion accompanied by tears from the families of the deceased -- a negative event. An event so negative that some have said: When the body bags start coming back from Kosovo, Americans will turn against the war.

Is that why the return of these soldiers has received so little publicity? Is that also why we haven't heard the president make any public statement of thanks or condolences to the families of Gibbs and Reichert?

-- Anthony F. Milavic