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At Veterans Memorial: Mixed Views on Quayle

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Times Staff Writer

As they walked slowly past the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on a warm Sunday afternoon, Americans expressed sharply differing views of the controversy over vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle’s opting for National Guard service during the war.

Some criticized the 41-year-old Republican senator from Indiana for using family influence to avoid the draft and let others fight in his place. Others defended his choice and angrily accused the media of conducting a witch hunt before all the facts were known.

The issue surfaced last week, when Republican presidential nominee George Bush picked Quayle, a staunch conservative, to be his running mate. Quayle, pressed by reporters, said he joined the National Guard in 1969 so he could go to law school, not to duck the draft.

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1969 Meeting Acknowledged

On Saturday, Quayle denied using improper influence but conceded that he had met with a former Indiana National Guard commander, who was employed by the wealthy Quayle family, to express his interest in joining the Guard. Had he not entered the National Guard, Quayle, then 22, would have been eligible to serve in Vietnam.

Should this be an issue in the campaign? Judging by the answers given Sunday at the memorial, Americans are as divided over Quayle’s actions as they were over the war itself.

William Cassells, a Vietnam veteran bowing his head before the memorial, said the young senator had disgraced himself nearly 20 years ago and should not expect many veterans to support his candidacy.

“I couldn’t ever vote for a guy like that,” Cassells, a 38-year-old supermarket clerk from Philadelphia, said quietly as he scanned the black marble for the names of wartime buddies who were killed.

‘We Served Our Time’

“The fact is, we served our time and he didn’t. Now he’s talking like a tough guy. You can’t make someone like that vice president.”

Nearby, Carol Charvat of Cleveland held her daughters’ hands and read the sad, handwritten notes that mothers and fathers have left along the wall in memory of their sons. She, too, spoke angrily about Quayle’s actions during the war.

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“You know, this wall is filled with the names of a lot of guys who didn’t have Quayle’s connections,” she said. “This matters a great deal, especially for people who didn’t have the money to buy their way out of military service.”

Yet others defended Quayle and said newspaper and television reporters were trying to discredit the vice presidential candidate before the campaign had even begun.

John Polymeros, a 25-year-old accountant from Needham, Mass., called the whole issue “a classic media hype” that will be superseded by more important election concerns.

‘He Did His Time’

“How many of us wouldn’t want to change something we did many years ago? He (Quayle) served his country. He did his time in the National Guard, which is not the same as running off to Canada to duck the draft,” Polymeros said. “That’s all I need to know.”

To Jim Felakus, a 19-year-old student from New York, Quayle’s actions 20 years ago made good sense. Under the circumstances, he said, “you do what you’ve got to do. You have to protect yourself. You’re not responsible to anyone but yourself.

“This shouldn’t even be an issue, because he didn’t break any law. I think the press is out to get him without giving him much of a chance to say what he’s for or against.”

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One heavyset man in a Pennsylvania National Guard T-shirt said bluntly: “Reporters are a bunch of . . . . That’s what I think.”

Yet others reserved judgment, saying the wounds of the Vietnam War have not yet healed and that much more information is needed about Quayle’s actions.

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