Some U.S. marines wounded in Lebanon who were trying to call home to tell their families they're alive have had their calls refused by some government operators on the grounds they aren't official business.
Operators from the U.S. Army Hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, called The Washington Post last night to say operators at several bases, including Fort Belvoir and Fort Monroe, Va., New London, Conn., and Fort Bragg, N.C., had refused to help them patch through such calls.
The German-based operators said they have been told by some of their U.S. counterparts that patching personal calls through government lines was against policy.
Their report of refused calls was confirmed last night by Elizabeth Tasker, an operator at Fort Eustis, Va., whom the German operators identified as "extremely helpful" in overcoming the situation.
Tasker said she began receiving calls from Frankfurt about 4:15 p.m. Wednesday and "patched them through right away on my own" to families in the Tidewater area.
"After the first few, I called my supervisor at home just to make sure it was all right," Tasker said. "She told me to go right ahead and put them through to anywhere."
Under government procedure, she said, military operators calling the U.S. from overseas bases call on military phone lines to the military installation in the states closest to the caller's destination. Operators at that base then patch through to local circuits to complete the calls.
When the Frankfurt operators told her of the problems, Tasker said, she patched calls through to homes as far away as Michigan.
At the Pentagon last night, a Marine Corps spokesman said the phone lines in question were indeed for official use only and "there very well could be problems in servicemen trying to contact their homes."
Some operators do patch through calls as personal favors, particularly at night when the lines aren't busy, he said, "but it's at the operator's discretion."
Gladys Hums, the telephone supervisor at Fort Bragg, said last night, "It was all a misunderstanding. . . . That German operator, I could crack her head."
She said the calls from Frankfurt had been refused on the grounds that they were personal calls "before anybody said anything about wounded marines. Of course we'd put those through."
At Fort Belvoir, however, telephone supervisor Agnes Reynolds said only calls to the immediate area would be completed.
Tasker said the marines she talked to "were pretty upset that they couldn't get through. One told me he had a hole in his arm and something wrong with his eye. Another couldn't speak except very softly."