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Memorial Day: Kerry and Vietnam; Divided America: War and Public Opinion

Aired May 31, 2004 - 15:30   ET


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Now the latest developments at this hour. President Bush leads thousands at a Memorial Day ceremony on this day of remembrance. The ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery comes as the U.S. death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan tops 800. Mr. Bush placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He said those who have served in the military "can be proud of all they have achieved."
Now to Iraq and the city of Kufa, where a firefight pitted U.S. troops against insurgents loyal to a radical cleric. When it was all over, two Americans and 45 insurgents were reported killed.

In Pakistan, at least 16 people are dead in a bombing in a Shiite mosque in Karachi. Police say 50 people were inside the mosque as the bomb exploded during evening prayers. This attack follows the killing yesterday of an Islamic scholar who preached against U.S. foreign policy.



ANNOUNCER: Remembering the lost.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of us count it a privilege to be citizens of the country they served.

ANNOUNCER: Under overcast skies, the president marks Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery.

John Kerry visits the Vietnam Memorial, paying tribute to the men and women who died in the war he helped fight. The senator's military service has become a central theme of his campaign.

Two families joined in grief.

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: So he was your baby son.

VERNON DENT, LOST SON IN IRAQ: My baby son, yes.

JUDY ADAMOUSKI, LOST SON IN IRAQ: He was where he wanted to be, and he was doing what he loved to do.

ANNOUNCER: Reflecting on two sons killed far from home.


JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us on this Memorial Day holiday. President Bush and his Democratic rival, John Kerry, today attended separate events honoring the nation's war dead. The president took part in the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery, just outside of Washington.

Afterwards, Mr. Bush spoke to an audience that included families of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. He praised what he called the fierce courage of U.S. service members, and he stated, "The nation is now safer because of their sacrifices."

John Kerry, meanwhile, began his day at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the National Mall before heading to coastal Virginia for a Memorial Day parade. Kerry's own experiences in Vietnam have been a major theme in his campaign for president. But as our Kelly Wallace reports, Kerry's Vietnam-era activities, especially his anti-war activism, don't always work in his favor.


KELLY WALLACE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Kerry escorts a Massachusetts family along the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Their loved one, William Bronson, died in 1976 from injuries in Vietnam.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to lay a wreath together. Can we do that?


KERRY: All of us?

WALLACE: Kerry worked to have Bronson's name inscribed on the wall. It was added today. Quiet and modest this Memorial Day, but in his television ads...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The decisions that he made saved our lives.

WALLACE: ... and on the stump, the presumptive Democratic nominee never shies away from mentioning his record as a decorated Vietnam veteran.

KERRY: We were together in a river in Vietnam when we were ambushed.

WALLACE: And Kerry often travels with fellow Vietnam veterans, including the green beret he pulled to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I owe this guy a lot. He saved my rear end.

WALLACE: But Kerry's Vietnam background, especially his years as an anti-war activist, has turned off some veterans and their supporters. Just today, at the Vietnam Memorial, away from the cameras, an unidentified woman shouted, "Are you paying tribute to all the people you spit on, Senator Kerry?"

A group of veterans against Kerry started a Web site, and the Vietnam veterans group, Rolling Thunder, which endorsed Al Gore in 2000, is backing President Bush in 2004. How does a war record impact presidential elections? If the past is any guide, in the last three, the active duty veteran was the one defeated. And that includes former World War II veteran and senator, Bob Dole.

BOB DOLE, FMR. SENATOR: It says you don't win on your war record. I mean, I think people -- I think they respect the fact that you're a veteran. But not everybody can be a veteran. I think sometimes you can overplay your hand.


WALLACE: But Kerry's advisers say he is not overplaying his hand. They say he is simply showcasing his Vietnam background because that's an important part of who he is.

They also say what's different this year than in previous years is that the country is at war. And Judy, of course part of the strategy here for the Kerry campaign, trying to battle President Bush on an issue that has been viewed as the president's greatest strength, and that is his handling of national security -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Kelly, speaking of that, John Kerry has several speeches coming up in the next week or so on national security. What are we looking to hear from him?

WALLACE: It is. He's giving three speeches in all. He delivered one last week in Seattle. The next will come tomorrow in West Palm Beach.

This is where he's focusing on dealing with weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation. Aides say one of his proposals will be to have one person solely in charge of dealing with nuclear proliferation.

Later in the week, on Thursday, in Independence, Missouri, he'll be focusing on modernizing the military. A big focus in that speech, Judy, we're told, dealing with the National Guard -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Kelly Wallace reporting on John Kerry today. Kelly, thank you very much.

With me now for more on the presidential race and the importance of military and national security issues, CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times.

Ron, Memorial Day, of course, reminding us of the role that national security plays in this election. Initially, it was thought that John Kerry -- that it would work to his advantage that he fought in Vietnam, that that was part of his background. It's not necessarily working out that way. RON BROWNSTEIN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, on balance, it is clear that it is an important asset, at least they see it as such, in the effort to make him a credible commander in chief. Probably the biggest challenge John Kerry has in this race, even with all of the doubts about the Iraq war, is convincing the last segment of swing voters that he can keep the country as safe and secure as President Bush.

President Bush, the strength -- perceived strength as a leader in the war on terror has been his biggest political asset since September 11th. And even though there are lots of doubts about his handling of Iraq, he still leads Senator Kerry on these questions: who can better handle the crisis, who can keep the country secure? Ultimately, Senator Kerry doesn't have to win those arguments, but he has to be a credible alternative.

WOODRUFF: How do you explain the fact that the president continues to do well on the questions of national security and doing well in the war on terror, when the war in Iraq is going as badly as it is?

BROWNSTEIN: And people do differentiate, Judy. I mean, there's been no doubt really for the last year that his approval ratings on terrorism have been consistently higher than his ratings on Iraq.

First of all, there's a natural advantage to the incumbent. If you go back even to 1980, a race where Jimmy Carter, there were lots of doubts about him as commander in chief, he led Ronald Reagan for most of that race when asked who could be best trusted to handle a crisis. You've seen the incumbent handle a crisis. There's a natural inclination.

Republicans also over the last generation have had more intrinsic credibility on these issues than Democrats. And finally, I think Senator Kerry ultimately needs to get his story out better.

If you look what he's doing in the midst of these 11 days of speeches on national security, as Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute put it, it seems to be more about reassurance than differentiation. He's more about trying to convince people that he'll be a credible commander in chief than he is about consistently drawing bright lines with President Bush. That's been an interesting strategy they've pursued throughout this whole spring period.

WOODRUFF: Can one assume, though, Ron, from looking at the polls that we're seeing now, that no matter how badly the war in Iraq goes, the president still can do well perceived as a leader in the war on terrorism?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I think on the war on terror, yes. I think because that is based largely on the fact there has not been another attack in the U.S. since 9/11. It's based -- rooted in the same factor that's hurting him in Iraq. People are judging based on what they see on the ground.

Ultimately, it is likely that he will have some kind of asset in terms of strength of leadership, able to handle a crisis all the way through. The question is, if Senator Kerry can convince people that he has a broader alternative strategy, one in which is also tough but which perhaps gets more help from allies and is more comprehensive, using other means, diplomacy, public relations, trade, reaching out in other ways to change the dynamic of threats to the U.S., perhaps he can cut into the president's advantages.

WOODRUFF: And we are going to be hearing, as Kelly Wallace was just telling us, in the days to come from Senator Kerry on some of these things.

BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. And that will be a large part of his message: broader and stronger.

WOODRUFF: Ron Brownstein, thank you very much, especially for coming in on Memorial Day. We appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you. All right. Thank you.


Well, the weekend ceremonies dedicated to World War II memorial revive memories of a war effort that united the nation like no conflict ever before. As our Bill Schneider reports, however, national unity is usually missing during times of war.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The current wave of World War II nostalgia carries a political message, a longing for national unity.

DOLE: Everybody came together just as we came together 9/11. But unfortunately, you know, we don't have that unity now.

SCHNEIDER: The country was united behind the last good war, but unity in war time is more the exception than the rule. The rule is wars divide Americans. Going all the way back to the American Revolution, as many as one-third of Americans opposed it. The New England states were so opposed to the War of 1812 against Britain, they threatened to secede.

The Civil War didn't just divide north and south. Many northerners wanted to sue for peace. There were anti-draft riots in New York City.

World War I produced an isolationist backlash that threw the Democrats out of office and kept the U.S. out of the League of Nations. World War II was not entirely the great exception. Before Pearl Harbor, the country was deeply divided.

DOLE: There was a lot of dissent in the country. It was sort of an isolationist country that Congress barely voted to declare war until they had the attack on Pearl Harbor.

SCHNEIDER: The Korean War caused an anti-war movement on the right that helped bring down President Harry Truman. The Vietnam War created a tumultuous backlash on the left that brought down another Democratic president.

HARRY TRUMAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your president.

SCHNEIDER: The first Gulf War was a splendid victory, preceded by a deeply divisive debate.

KERRY: I ask my colleagues if we are once again so willing to risk people dying for a mistake.

SCHNEIDER: There was less division going into Iraq last year. But a lot more now. But you don't have to go back to World War II to find the country united behind a war. You can just go back to 2001: Afghanistan.

BUSH: The Taliban must act and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate.


SCHNEIDER: What did the war in Afghanistan and World War II have in common? The U.S. was attacked, Pearl Harbor, 9/11. Going to war without being attacked divides Americans. Always has. Probably always will -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

Hundreds of American troops who lost their lives in the war in Iraq are being remembered on this Memorial Day. Coming up, the parents of two of the fallen talk with me about their grief and their thoughts on the war.


WOODRUFF: Do you think your son died for a reason?

DENT: He died for his country. And that's all I'm going to say. I'll say no more on that.


WOODRUFF: Also ahead, we will find out the requirements for burial on a hallowed piece of ground, Arlington National Cemetery.

And we will meet a special American veteran, a 103-year-old man who served in World War I.


WOODRUFF: On this Memorial Day, America is honoring its war dead. And this year, it is an especially poignant time for more than 800 American families. Their loved ones are the latest fallen heroes: U.S. troops who have lost their lives in the war in Iraq. Just a few days ago, I sat down with the parents of two American soldiers who were killed in the war.


WOODRUFF: So he was your baby son.

DENT: My baby son, yeah.

WOODRUFF: And he graduated from high school...

DENT: Graduated from...

WOODRUFF: ... about four years ago.

(voice-over): For years, Vernon Dent and his son, Daryl (ph), lived together here in Washington, D.C. Then in 2003, Daryl (ph) was sent to the war. He came home last August, dead at 21, the first District of Columbia National Guardsman to fall in combat since Vietnam. To hear his father tell it, it all sounds like a big mistake.

(on camera): So when he joined the National Guard, what did you think about it?

DENT: I didn't want him to go. But he wanted to go so bad, I went on and signed the papers and let him go.

WOODRUFF: You mean he really gave you an argument?

DENT: Yes. Yes.

WOODRUFF: Why do you think he wanted to join the National Guard?

DENT: Well, his goal, he wanted to be a doctor.

WOODRUFF: Is that right?

DENT: That was his goal, and he figured he could get it through that.

FRANK ADAMOUSKI, LOST SON IN IRAQ: That's his graduation from West Point.

WOODRUFF: From West Point. You must have been so proud.

J. ADAMOUSKI: Oh, yes.

F. ADAMOUSKI: Absolutely. I have hours of videotape.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): Jimmy Adamouski had goals as well, many of them realized before he, too, became a first -- the first West Point graduate to die in Iraq. He had traveled the world, piloting Black Hawks in Kosovo, playing soccer at West Point, and going semi professional in Germany. He was preparing to enter Harvard Business School, and he was newly wed to Megan (ph), who accepted the flag at his funeral just one month into war.

Jimmy's father, retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Adamouski, said his son did more in 29 years than most people do in 100.

(on camera): This is a Black Hawk like the one that he flew?


WOODRUFF (voice-over): The Adamouskis, a military family, take comfort in knowing their son died at the top of his game.

J. ADAMOUSKI: That's my only consolation, is that he was where he wanted to be and he was doing what he loved to do. And he loved to fly. He was thrilled when he -- when he was at West Point and he got aviation. That was his number one choice.

WOODRUFF: Captain James Adamouski didn't have to go to Iraq, but he couldn't bear to leave his comrades, in spite of his mother's entreaties.

J. ADAMOUSKI: As you well know, any mother would say, "Please, whatever you can do. If you can get out of this one, Jimmy, get out of it. You've been four times to Bosnia. So, you know, I really don't want you to go." I had some really bad feelings about -- kind of premonitions about this war and the outcome, and unfortunately, my fears did come true.

WOODRUFF: Jimmy sent his parents letters from the war zone, detailing his missions and the conditions on the ground.

J. ADAMOUSKI: On March the 12th, he had been to a briefing, and he said that the general that gave the briefing expects this war to be over in approximately two weeks.

WOODRUFF: Specialist Daryl Dent (ph) didn't regale his father with war stories.

DENT: He didn't talk about nothing over there.

WOODRUFF (on camera): He didn't?

DENT: No. He didn't talk about nothing over there.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): He didn't seem prepared for the horrors of Iraq. And when he phoned his father, their conversations were of home.

DENT: We just talked about him and me.

WOODRUFF (on camera): And what was he saying to you?

DENT: He was telling me how much he loved me and that he looked forward to getting back here with me and stuff like that.

WOODRUFF: And what were you saying to him?

DENT: I would tell him the same thing, that I love him.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): In early August of 2003, Daryl (ph) called his father one last time.

DENT: He didn't say nothing about the war. He would just say -- you could tell the trembling in his voice that he was really scared. He was telling me he was scared. And I just talked to him, tried to comfort him, and told him it was going to be all right.

WOODRUFF: What made you believe he was scared? You said there was a trembling?

DENT: Trembling in his voice. I know my kids. Every parent knows their kids. I know when my kids are scared and when they're not. And I know he was scared.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): And two weeks later, Daryl Dent (ph) was dead.

(on camera): What happened to Jimmy? What happened?

J. ADAMOUSKI: We're not exactly sure.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): On April 21, 2003, about a month after he arrived in Iraq, Jimmy Adamouski's helicopter went down near a lake. The cause of the crash is unknown. A pilot flying in another helicopter could only offer scant details.

J. ADAMOUSKI: He had his sights right on Jimmy's helicopter. He said, "Just as the night vision goggles went out, he stopped, he had taken them off, changed the batteries, and just at that moment, the helicopter disappeared."

So no one saw what happened. However, they were only flying about 100 feet off the ground. They were very low and very fast.

WOODRUFF: The Adamouskis are pressing for more information. They believe Jimmy may have been shot down, either by Iraqi forces or by friendly fire.

Across the Potomac, Vernon Dent is also haunted by questions about his son's final moments.

DENT: They say (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a landmine and exploded, blew up.

WOODRUFF (on camera): And what else did they say to you?

DENT: Nothing.

WOODRUFF: That was it?

DENT: That was it.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): He, too, wants a full accounting of his child's death.

Just before he went overseas, Jimmy Adamouski attended a funeral with his parents at Arlington.

F. ADAMOUSKI: He was so impressed with everything, that he asked a lot of questions about, "Hey, dad, can you be buried here? And if you can, I'm going to make sure that everything goes right," you know. And here in just a few months later, we buried here.

WOODRUFF: In section 60 of the cemetery, just a dozen or so plots away from Daryl Dent (ph).


WOODRUFF: And we are grateful to Mr. Dent and to the Adamouskis for talking to us.

Still to come, more memories from the parents of two American troops who lost their lives in Iraq. We'll find out how they feel about the war and whether it will affect their vote in the presidential election.


WOODRUFF: A quick correction. Just a moment ago, we reported that the veterans group known for riding motorcycles, Rolling Thunder, had endorsed Al Gore in 2000. In fact, they endorsed George W. Bush that year, as they are endorsing him in this year's election.

Well, it may be the most hallowed ground in the nation, Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 260,000 people. Veterans from all the country's wars are buried there from the revolution through today's conflict in Iraq. About 5,000 funerals are held at Arlington each year, nearly 20 a day.

Among those eligible for burial, service members who died in the line of duty, veterans retired from active duty, and their spouses or widows, and presidents of the United States. Famous Americans who were buried at Arlington include presidents John Kennedy and William Howard Taft, former Supreme Court justices, including Thurgood Marshall are also buried there. And so are civil rights activist Medgar Evers and band leader Glenn Miller.

Still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, Democrats have a bounce in their step as they talk about regaining control of the U.S. Senate this fall. But is there really cause for optimism? We'll find out from CNN's Joe Johns.

And we will meet an American veteran whose war experience goes back to the early 1900s. Those stories and much more coming up.



ANNOUNCER: With troops still dying nearly everyday in Iraq, the nation pauses to honor its veterans. A somber President Bush remembers the dead and offers a message of hope.

Their sons died for their country, but was the war worth fighting in the first place?

F. ADAMOUSKI: We're going to put a tremendous hurt upon this global terrorism.

DENT: They bring the youngsters home that should never have been over there.

ANNOUNCER: Division among parents of the dead.

And one of the oldest living World War I vets tells all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted to be part of it, to participate.

ANNOUNCER: A 103-year-old soldier looks back.



WOODRUFF: Welcome back on this Memorial Day. President Bush praised all-Americans who died in service to their country, and he paid a special salute to those killed while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by with more on the President's day. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Judy, at this time last year, it was more than 160 Americans who had been killed in Iraq. That number has increased now to more than 800. President Bush recognized America's fallen soldiers. He went to Arlington National Cemetery, that is where he laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. It was a very somber and emotional occasion. The President stood shoulder to shoulder with his defense secretary as well as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The President paying particular homage to those U.S.soldiers who are engaged in the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since the hour this nation was attacked, we have seen the character of the men and women who wear our country's uniform. In places like Kabul and Kandahar and Mosul and Baghdad, we have seen their decency and their brave spirit. Because of their fierce courage, America is safer. Two terror regimes are gone forever, and more than 50 million souls now live in freedom.


MALVEAUX: Now, the president faces a critical juncture in the war on terror. As you know, unrest continues inside of that country as well as casualties mounting. There are less than five weeks now before the transfer of power to the Iraqi people takes place. And the President in the weeks to come will be taking a series of speeches both at home and abroad to try to win support for U.S policy in Iraq. Judy? WOODRUFF: Suzanne Malveaux, thank you very much, Suzanne. We appreciate it.

Well, the president's Democratic challenger John Kerry is also paying tribute to Americans who died in battle. This morning, Kerry joined a Massachusetts family at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here in Washington. Kerry has worked with the family of William Bronson to get his name added to the wall. Bronson died in 1976 of complications from a Vietnam War wound. Kerry then headed to ports Portsmouth, Virginia, where he took part in the city's Memorial Day parade. Virginia has gone Republican for decades in presidential elections, but Kerry advisers are targeting the state as a possible pickup this November.

More presidential politics in our campaign news daily. We will have new poll numbers to report from Illinois, as well as the showdown state of Minnesota. According to a Mason-Dixon survey of Minnesota voters, Senator Kerry leads President Bush 44 percent to 41 percent. Ralph Nader receiving 2 percent. Al Gore won Minnesota by 2 percentage points in 2000. In Illinois, a "Chicago Tribune"-WGN TV poll shows Kerry with a solid 16-point lead there, 54 percent to 38 percent.

The Bush campaign is going negative in a big way, according to an analysis of its TV ads. Statistics compiled by the "Washington Post" show that the Bush campaign has aired more than 49,000 ads attacking John Kerry. Or about 75 percent of the total Bush ads so far. The Kerry campaign has aired more than 13,000 ads attacking Bush, or 27 percent of its total ads. Ads paid for by independents, so called 527 groups which have run ads on Kerry's behalf were not part of the survey.

The Democratic National Committee launched a negative ad of its own today criticizing Bush on veterans' issues. The Web-based ad accuses the President of having, quote, "a secret plan to cut veterans funding." The Bush administration tells CNN the ad is, quote, "completely inaccurate."

Well, along with their hopes for the White House, Democrats are upbeat about their chances of regaining control of the U.S. Senate this fall. But as CNN congressional correspondent Joe Johns reports it could be an uphill climb.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With the primary season in full swing, Democrats are energized, expressing newfound optimism about their chances of regaining control of the Senate this fall, but the question is whether all the early exuberance is irrational.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: The Senate very broadly is in play. That means the Democrats have a chance to net seats and take over the Senate but you'd also have to say the Republicans still are better positioned. JOHNS: The math favors Republicans because Democrats are defending open seats in Louisiana, Florida and three Republican stronghold states, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. States that all went for Bush in 2000, but Democrats believe they have strong candidates like former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles who's running a better campaign than his losing bid of 2002.

ERSKINE BOWLES, NC SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: You deserve a strong, independent voice in the Senate. To stand up to the special interests, set aside partisan politics and put the people of North Carolina first.

JOHNS: If Democrats are to regain the majority, they'll have to pick up seats outside the South and they have some opportunities.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) ILLINOIS SENATE CANDIDATE: We have an administration in the White House that has been more fiscally irresponsible than any in recent memory.

JOHNS: In Illinois, State Senator Barack Obama is in a strong position to pick up a Republican seat and Democrats are increasingly hopeful of taking Republican seats in Alaska, Oklahoma and Colorado where Republicans are facing difficult primaries.

Perhaps the most competitive race in the nation is in South Dakota where Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle is at war with John Thune in a heavily Republican state.

JOHN THUNE, (R) SD SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Daschle had the opportunity. He squandered it.

JOHNS: Thune got an assist recently from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist who broke a long tradition of not campaigning for the defeat of the other party's leader. An important test of the South Dakota race comes tomorrow in a special election to fill a vacant House seat. Whichever party wins will use the results as evidence it has the upper hand in a very fluid and close contest for the control of the Senate. Joe Johns, CNN, Capitol Hill.


WOODRUFF: And by the way, in that Senate showdown in Illinois we just heard about, a new poll shows the Democrat Barack Obama with a commanding lead over his Republican opponent. In the survey by the "Chicago Tribune" and WGN TV, 52 percent of registered voters supported Obama. 30 percent favored Republican Jack Ryan. The winner will replace Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald who is not running for reelection.

Coming up, the parents of two soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq tell me how they feel about the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq. And will the war play a role in the ballots they cast on Election Day?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't even though why they went over there themselves. They don't even know what they died for. Half of them don't. Bring 'em home.


WOODRUFF: Plus, we will meet an American veteran from a far different era. His military service was nearly a century ago.


WOODRUFF: Just a short time ago on INSIDE POLITICS, we heard from the parents of two American troops who lost their lives in the war in Iraq. On this Memorial Day, they are remembering their sons. And they spoke with me about their grief. I also talked with them about the war and whether they support what the United States and its coalition partners are doing in Iraq.


LTC FRANK ADAMOUSKI (RET), LOST SON IN IRAQ: I think that there's a great deal of support to see this through.

WOODRUFF: From a retired lieutenant colonel, a full throated endorsement of the Iraq war. From a mother in mourning, support, tempered with grief.

Did you think it was the right thing to do?

F. ADAMOUSKI: Absolutely.

JUDY ADAMOUSKI, LOST SON IN IRAQ: Frank did, but as a mom, no, I didn't. Because I had a son in the military.

WOODRUFF: A son who set out full of idealism and came home in a coffin. Captain James Adamouski believed in this war and gave his life for it.

J. ADAMOUSKI: His West Point friends I think they all basically said it all when they say, you know, the motto of our school is "Duty, honor and country," and Jimmy lived it right to the end.

WOODRUFF: Do you think your son died for a reason?

VERNON DENT, LOST SON IN IRAQ: Put it this way, he died for his country. That's the best I can say. I can say no more.

WOODRUFF: Specialist Darryl Dent shipped off to Iraq under very different circumstances.

This is after he joined the National Guard?

DENT: Uh-huh.

WOODRUFF: He's wearing his uniform?

DENT: Yeah, I had that taken in my house. I took that at my house.

WOODRUFF: Looks pretty spiffy.

DENT: Yeah.

WOODRUFF: Unlike Jimmy Adamouski who had built a career in the military, Darryl joined the National Guard to help pay for college. He wasn't expecting to see any combat. His family opposed the Iraq invasion from the start. What did you think of this war as it was getting underway?

DENT: Personally, I didn't like it. Personally, in my opinion, of the war, they should bring the youngsters home. They should never have been over there. My opinion of it.

WOODRUFF: And now, they're still over there.

DENT: And I still say they should bring them home.


DENT: They don't even know why they're over there their selves. They don't even know what they're dying for, half of them don't. Bring 'em home.

WOODRUFF: Judy Adamouski came around as supporting the war that claimed her son, embracing the view that Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorism.

J. ADAMOUSKI: I think that, yes, we needed to be in Iraq. We need to be there because if we're not there, I fear that they will-- they'll be here.

F. ADAMOUSKI: These terrorists, decided once we got into Iraq, that it would be a location that would be advantageous to them. To continue to confront us and try to inflict defeat upon us. And it was their decision to keep this going, not ours.

WOODRUFF: But the Adamouskis never expected the war would still be going on today when they sent their only son off to fight more than a year ago.

BUSH: Army Captain James Adamouski of Springfield, Virginia, wrote this to his wife, Meagan(ph).

J. ADAMOUSKI: I thanked President Bush and met the man last year. I felt he's a very sincere genuine person and I like that about someone.

WOODRUFF: Rock-ribbed Republicans, Judy and Frank Adamouski will vote for George W. Bush in November, even though Judy says she hasn't really thought about it, and Frank argues when it comes to the war, it doesn't really matter.

F. ADAMOUSKI: This country doesn't change just because a President changes. This country's too big and has too many elements to it to have just one person make a fantastic change. Sure, there are decisions that are made, but a once you get into a job like the President and you get presented with the information that's available to a person like that, I think for the most part, maybe--maybe even 80 percent, they all come to the same decisions.

WOODRUFF: For Vernon Dent, the powers in Washington aren't worth discussing. What is your feeling right now toward the government, towards the people who are organizing this war and managing this war?

DENT: Well, let's leave it at that. I'd rather not talk on it. Rather not talk on it.

WOODRUFF: Off camera, he criticized the President, saying that if he votes, it will be for John Kerry. The Adamouskis and the dents have little in common, but both cling to the same talisman of their fallen sons.

What are these? What is one?

DENT: That's the bronze star.

WOODRUFF: When did you get this?

DENT: You get that at his death. When they get kill, that's when you get that, yeah.


WOODRUFF: And once again, my thanks to Mr. Dent and to the Adamouskis for talking with me.

For a few thousand troops, this war in Iraq is now over, but their personal battles are just beginning. Coming up I will talk with Admiral Donald Arthur, the commander of the Bethesda Naval Hospital where many of the most grievously wounded are taken for care.


WOODRUFF: For most Americans, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan exists only as images on their TV screen, but for the troops and the medical personnel who treat their injuries, this war is devastatingly violent. I spoke recently with Admiral Donald Arthur, he is the commander of the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington. I started by asking him how many casualties his facility has treated.


ADM DONALD ARTHUR, NATIONAL NAVAL MEDICAL CENTER: Over 700 mostly marines, but some navy.

WOODRUFF: And what kinds of injuries are you seeing?

ARTHUR: There's been an interesting change. In the past year, we saw a lot of injuries that were from rifle fire or handguns fire. Now we're seeing explosive injuries, the kind of injuries that create massive tissue destruction and a lot of long-term injuries, a lot of amputations.

WOODRUFF: And how are you dealing with this? Bethesda Naval Hospital has been a hospital serving retired navy marines for all recent wars.


WOODRUFF: But this is a burst of work for you, isn't it?

ARTHUR: It is, but our staff is well prepared to handle these injuries. A lot of our staff was over in Iraq in that theater because we launched the USNS Comfort, the hospital ship and the majority of my staff went to the theater to treat these injuries as they happened during the last year, and so they understand the environment these marines and sailors are in, they understand the injuries and I think they're very well prepared. Both mentally and professionally because it takes a toll on some of the staff to treat this kind of injury day after day.

WOODRUFF: We read that the protective gear that the marines and soldiers and others are wearing is much better than it was, say, during Vietnam. It is protecting them in many ways but also leaving them vulnerable in some ways.

ARTHUR: Well, it protects the torso very well, it protects the head very well because the helmets are excellent and there's a lot of armor on the HMMWVs, the vehicles they use. But their arms and legs aren't as well protect and when you get a blast injury, it tends to affect, the arms, legs and face a little bit more than one would expect.

WOODRUFF: I read an article the other day that talked about in Vietnam, 18 percent of the injuries are head or traumatic brain injuries but during this war, 60 percent of the injuries, the article was saying, traumatic brain injuries.

ARTHUR: We've made tremendous strides in body armor so what's left is injuries of the exposed parts.

WOODRUFF: And so these marines and soldiers are leaving the hospital what, I mean, are they staying longer, able to go home soon?

ARTHUR: They are staying longer. The key that we have to their rehabilitation is we take care of them and their families. We invite their families, fly their families to Bethesda, put them up in local hotels or accommodations on the base, and we view the family and marine or sailor as a single unit to be treated together. If they go to rehab facilities, we make sure that it's near their home and that the family's involved in their rehabilitation.

WOODRUFF: Why do you need to do that, why do you need to focus on the family?

ARTHUR: Well the families are more important than any drugs we can give them. The families were there when they joined the Marines or the Navy and I think it's important that the family knows if American mothers and fathers are going to send sons and daughters to navy, to the marine corps or the other services, that if anything happens, that the top rated medical system in the world is there to help them.

WOODRUFF: What are you seeing in terms of the spirit of these young men mostly young men.

ARTHUR: Tremendous courage. We've had some women casualties but it is tremendous, just as I told you last year, their most common wish is to go back with their shipmates, with fellow sailors and marines. When can I go back with my unit is the most common question.

WOODRUFF: But for most of them, can they go back?

ARTHUR: Most of them can. We've discharged most of them back to duty, some with limitations and even the amputees can go back to service. We have two amputees who are on my staff now, one doctor and one corpsman who asked to come and be stationed at the hospital to continue taking care of their fellow marines and sailors.

WOODRUFF: That's extraordinary, something for us all to take inspiration from.

ARTHUR: Their spirit is tremendous.


WOODRUFF: Quite a story. Well, wars may be fought by the young, but they are never forgotten as the once young soldiers grow old. Coming up, Bruce Morton with one soldier who still remembers battles fought more than 80 years ago.


WOODRUFF: Each generation has its battle, its war in the trenches for the jungles or like today, in the desert. But with every passing year, there are fewer to remind us of past victories or of their cost. A long time ago, there was a war they called the War to End All Wars. And of the nearly 5 million Americans who fought it, only 200 or so remain. Our Bruce Morton met with one of them.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Frank Buckles is 103 now. He left his Missouri farm home when he was 16 in order to serve in World War I.

FRANK BUCKLES, WORLD WAR I VETERAN: I wanted to be part of it. To participate.

MORTON: The marines were suspicious, but the army signed him up, trained him as an ambulance driver and sent him first to Scotland. They had all been issued hatchets. The Scots stared.

BUCKLES: They'd say, oh, American Indians. See how they all have a tommy hawk. MORTON: He got to France, saw suffering.

BUCKLES: The great loss of people, both soldiers and civilians who were affected by the tragedy of the war. And they felt that this would be the last war. Every family had a loss.

MORTON: As the war ended, he was guarding German prisoners.

BUCKLES: Every evening after the day's work was done, the Germans would have a concert with--some of them were instruments that they had made themselves.

MORTON: Escorting the prisoners back to Germany, they were told don't fraternize, but they did, of course.

BUCKLES: The German people seemed to treat us nicely. Everybody remarked about that.

MORTON: Buckles had bad luck in World War II. A civilian businessman in the Philippines he was captured by the Japanese. Toward the end of the war, they thought they would be killed.

BUCKLES: What are you going to do with the prisoners? At roll call, we're going to finish them off.

MORTON: But American paratroopers rescued them in time.

BUCKLES: That's when the skies opened up and the angels dropped from the sky.

MORTON: Buckles lives quietly now in Charlestown, West Virginia. He's seen much history. What does he make of the U.S. role today?

BUCKLES: I think we make a great mistake in trying to settle the problems on our own. That bothers me. That bothers me very much.

MORTON: Frank Buckles, at 103. Bruce Morton, CNN reporting.


WOODRUFF: And he served his country well. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS on this Memorial Day. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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