Clinton heads to Europe to visit freed soldiers
Former POWs recovering in Germany; relatives talk to media
May 4, 1999
LANDSTUHL, Germany (CNN) -- As the U.S. military investigated how three soldiers, held for more than a month in Yugoslavia, were injured, President Clinton left the White House, bound for a meeting with the men in Germany on Wednesday.
The former prisoners of war, reunited with family members on Monday, were still being shielded from the media while debriefings continue at a U.S. military hospital in Germany where they are expected to stay for a few more days.
Their commander, Maj. David Grange of the 1st Infantry Division, told CNN they are "looking forward to (returning) home with their families for a well-deserved leave."
Relatives of two of the soldiers -- Staff Sgts. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles and Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan -- said at a news conference arranged by the Army that they were all feeling overwhelmed.
"We really didn't discuss anything that happened," said Stone's sister, Deanna. "We were just glad to see them and that was it.
"You can't even explain the feelings that you have," she added. "You don't even want to talk. You want to see them and give them a hug."
Vivian Ramirez said she hugged her son, "little Andy," so hard when they first saw him that he couldn't breathe. "Oh I couldn't let go," she said. "It was good to see him. He looked really good, really good."
The family members avoided answering questions about the soldiers' capture or captivity, or their injuries.
Family members of the third captured soldier, Spc. Steven Gonzales, 22, of Huntsville, Texas, did not appear at the news conference.
Col. Mack Blanton, chief of clinical services at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, offered no new details about whether the three were mistreated after their capture. But, he said, they "require no further in-patient care or treatment."
"They've had a comprehensive medical evaluation and they are fine and in good health," Blanton told reporters.
In a final report, doctors said:
In addition, they all had abrasions on their wrists, apparently from being handcuffed, and had lost between eight and 14 pounds.
The Army said the injuries were caused by "trauma," but refused to elaborate, citing the continuing investigation into the circumstances of their March 31 capture near the Yugoslav-Macedonia border.
One source familiar with the investigation said the men would never have been captured except for unusual circumstances, at the time they were taken by the Yugoslavs, that prevented them from using their rifles.
No further details were immediately available.
Grange has said there are indications the three were mistreated.
Before arriving at Landstuhl on Sunday from the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, the soldiers told reporters their scars and bruises stemmed from their capture, but said they were generally treated well after that.
After taking 30 days' leave, the three former prisoners of war were likely to return to their units based in Germany, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said Monday.
He said initial debriefings with the servicemen have reaffirmed U.S. officials' belief that the soldiers were captured inside Macedonia
Serb authorities have claimed the three were in Serb territory when captured.
President Clinton will fly first to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, for an update on the NATO air war against Yugoslavia.Before leaving the White House, Clinton reiterated the alliance's position on the tens of thousands of refugees forced from Kosovo. "There is no middle ground between returning these innocent people to their homes and turning away from their fate," he said. "Whatever can be negotiated, it is not that. They have to be able to go home, safe and secure." He also said that Kosovar Albanians should be able to live in their own land without fear of 'ethnic cleansing.' "We will not usher in the 21st century with the worst nightmares of the 20th," he said.
While in Germany, Clinton also will meet with U.S. troops involved in humanitarian efforts and with some Kosovo refugees.
Correspondent Walter Rodgers contributed to this report.
Officer: Freed soldiers possibly mistreated
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
|Back to the top||
© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.|
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.