Veterans React to Prisoner Abuse Scandal - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

05/11/04

Veterans React to Prisoner Abuse Scandal

These Korea vets voiced their opinions on the images of abuse. These Korea vets voiced their opinions on the images of abuse.

President George Bush is backing his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. On the heels of more pictures of American troops mistreating Iraqi prisoners, President Bush held a meeting at the Pentagon. He and lawmakers viewed the photos behind closed doors.

Bush says those responsible will be punished and that he stands behind Rumsfeld completely. "Thank you for your leadership," he told Rumsfeld. "You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude."

Yesterday, the United States Senate unanimously passed a resolution condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Americans at Abu Ghraib prison. It apologizes for the incident and calls for an investigation.

Those pictures are stirring up all kinds of emotion around the world, and especially for the men and women who serve in uniform. WTOC spoke with some Marine Corps Reservists to get their opinions. Like most of us, the men of D Company have seen the pictures and heard the stories.

But when it comes to guarding prisoners of war, these men can speak from experience. More than 50 years ago, these men were Reservists fighting for the US in the Korean War. Jerry Gill was a corporal with Savannah's D Company, 10th Infantry Training Battalion. At one point, he guarded 15 Chinese prisoners of war. "You have to treat them in a human, in a humanitarian way there," he said. 

Gill says 1951 was a long time ago. Now, the country and these veterans, are buzzing about pictures of Iraqi POWs and their treatment at the hands of modern-day Reservists serving in Iraq. "It's a terrible black eye for us," said veteran Harrell Roberts. He says the pictures made him sick. "I think any of those kids are perverted characters."

"I was shocked, very disappointed," added Gill.

We surveyed the 13 members of D Company as they met at Savannah's Fairmont Restaurant, and they all agreed the pictures are disturbing and disgusting. They also agreed with President Bush's decision to stand behind Donald Rumsfeld in his role as secretary of defense.

"The head guy does not always know what is going on," said Gill.

Back in 1951, Gill says he made his Chinese prisoners recite the Marine Corps Hymn. It's a far cry from stripping prisoners and taking pictures. But he has a feeling his actions could have landed him in big trouble. "I could have, by humiliation. I guess I could have gotten in trouble back then. I reckon."

Gill says he wouldn't be surprised if soldiers took pictures of prisoners back in his day. But it's still not okay. He feels, along with his D Company brothers, the people responsible for the POW abuse should be punished severely.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com

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