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Vietnam Vets Applaud Bush’s Commitment Not to Tie Hands of Troops

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vietnam veterans Thursday said they saw the apparent success of U.S. forces during the first two days of the Persian Gulf war as a vindication of what they could have done had they not been required to fight their war with one hand tied behind their back.

“We’re being allowed to do now what we should have been allowed to do then. You’re seeing what we can do when the politicians stay out of it and let the military, with some restrictions, do the job,” said Mario Conte, chief trial attorney for Federal Defenders.

Many veterans on Thursday repeated President Bush’s assertion that American troops were forced to fight the Vietnam War with one hand tied behind their back. Bush has vowed that will not happen in the Persian Gulf conflict.

Conte, a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in the Vietnam War, heaped huge offerings of praise on the Air Force pilots who led the air attacks on Baghdad. He also noted that many of the military leaders who planned the attacks are Vietnam veterans.

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“They’re telling us, ‘We’re going to do the job, and we’re going to show you we could have done it then.’ I get a sense that it’s almost a little vindication going on here,” Conte added.

However, Conte and other veterans said they had hoped that President Bush would give sanctions more time to become effective.

“I would have preferred sanctions. But, once the President threw down the gauntlet, I’m glad that we decided to use all the power of our technology. Let’s use it all to end it quickly,” Conte said.

The veterans also expressed sadness about the country going to war again.

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“War is no fun,” said Vic Ravago, a retired Army infantry sergeant. “It ain’t going to be gravy. But we should have gone in five months ago.”

Ron Zappardino, former Marine lieutenant and owner of the Top O’The Cove restaurant in La Jolla, said, “This war is more than about just oil.”

“I couldn’t be prouder today about America’s position to uphold the rights of other people. We’re exercising our authority responsibly. This is the way you fight, decisively and with everything you’ve got. It’s the only way to fight,” said Zappardino.

Veterans, however, also acknowledged major differences in the causes of both wars and doubts about the effectiveness of massive bombing raids against North Vietnam. Conte noted that America unleashed powerful bombing raids against Hanoi late in the war, but the bombing achieved only temporary success.

Zappardino doubted that America could have won in Vietnam under any circumstance.

“I don’t necessarily agree that we could have won that war,” said Zappardino. “It was a civil war. One side was more determined than the other.”

Some veterans also expressed concern over the anti-war protests that have erupted across the United States. Navy veteran Mike Newman, who served on aircraft carriers off South Vietnam between 1968 and 1970, called the protests “disconcerting.”

“That was the one lesson I hoped we had learned from Vietnam. It’s most disconcerting to see Americans protesting on both sides of the issue. I never thought I’d see it again. But my concern is for the warrior, not the war,” said Newman.

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