Share This Page

Some World War II survivors say ex-POW deserves welcome home

| Tuesday, June 3, 2014, 11:00 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
World War II Army veteran William J. Carr, 89, of Penn Hills is overcome with emotion following a ceremony honoring him and other area veterans with the French Legion of Honor in Oakland on Tuesday, June 3, 2014. Carr is surrounded by family including his daughters, Heidi Morra (left) and Karen Carr, both of Penn Hills, and Jerry Leon, also of Penn Hills, whom Carr considers a son.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
French Legion of Honor medals prior to a ceremony honoring area veterans in Oakland on June 3, 2014. The veterans were honored for their contributions to the liberation of France during World War II.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Armand E. Bruno, 92, of Verona receives the French Legion of Honor from Olivier Serot Alméras, consul general of France, during a ceremony honoring area veterans in Oakland on Tuesday, June 3, 2014. The veterans were honored for their contributions to the liberation of France during World War II.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
World War II veterans Larry S. Kushner (from left) of Monroeville, Rudolph S. Marzio of Hopewell, August T. Pace of Bethel Park, Ralph A. Russo of New Castle and Michael T. Vernillo of the North Shore stand for the national anthem during in a ceremony honoring their contributions to the liberation of France in Oakland on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Robert Dallas, left, of Titusville, joins other area World War II veterans in a ceremony honoring their contributions to the liberation of France in Oakland on June 3, 2014.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Michael T. Vernillo, of the North Shore, receives the French Legion of Honor from Olivier Serot Alméras, consul general of France, during a ceremony honoring area veterans in Oakland on June 3, 2014. The veterans were honored for their contributions to the liberation of France during World War II.

Veterans say there's no easy answer about how to treat Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

Some said he should be welcomed home. Others contend he is a deserter who should face the consequences.

Larry Kushner, one of nine World War II veterans receiving the French Legion of Honor medal on Tuesday afternoon at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland, said he was taken prisoner by the Nazis, and for him, there is no question about what Bergdahl's fate should be.

“We should acknowledge how hard it was and welcome the returning,” said Kushner, 89, of Monroeville.

News of Bergdahl's release broke on Saturday, when it was announced that the United States would conduct a prisoner swap of five Taliban leaders held at Guantanamo for Bergdahl's freedom. Within days, members of Bergdahl's unit told the media that in 2009, the soldier intentionally left the remote base in Paktika province.

If he did go AWOL — absent without leave — he could be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

August Pace, 90, of Bethel Park, another of the veterans honored, said Bergdahl should be treated as a deserter.

Pace said he hopes that the federal government will pursue disciplinary action against Bergdahl.

“His commanding officer should've known better than to send his guys out” to search for him, he said. “Men gave their lives up to rescue him. What good was it?”

Political rivalries are driving much of the public criticism of the prisoner swap, said Thomas Sanderson, co-director of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“If Bergdahl had died in captivity, (the criticism) would have been: The president had an opportunity to get him out and he let a U.S. soldier die. And the same guys who are screaming at him now — (Arizona Sen. John) McCain and others — would say, ‘You let a soldier die,' ” Sanderson said during a meeting on Tuesday with Tribune-Review editors and reporters.

But politics don't negate the real concerns about potential fallout from the deal, Arnaud de Borchgrave, a veteran foreign correspondent and director of CSIS's Transnational Threats Project, said during the meeting with the Trib.

“I'm not a supporter of McCain, but he is bringing up a very important point. One deserter, (several) Americans killed looking for him. And then we trade this deserter for (five) very important people in the al-Qaida movement,” de Borchgrave said.

Korean War veteran Earl Aussenberg, 81, of Oakland, Kushner's cousin, said his opinion about Bergdahl is mixed.

“I believe we should never leave a soldier behind,” said Aussenberg, who clearly remembers Kushner — underweight and suffering from bleeding ulcers — returning home.

Critics have called the prisoner exchange a negotiation with terrorists.

“If I was a prisoner of a terrorist and (the government) did not negotiate for me, I would accept that,” Aussenberg said.

Staff writer Mike Wereschagin and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Megan Henney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-320-7987 or mhenney@tribweb.com.

Related Content
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.