Last week, members of Willoughby Marks American Legion Post 106 gathered for their monthly meeting, mainly to enjoy delicious gumbo cooked up by Larry Hale, the former post commander.
As Russia had just days earlier invaded Ukraine, the discussion turned to the subject among these veterans, many of whom had seen war first hand.
“Those poor people in the Ukraine are catching it right now,” said Oscar Medley, 89, who served during the Korean War with the Marines Corps 1st Combat Service Group. “This Putin is so greedy he wants all the territory. Like some pipsqueak country like Ukraine is a threat to him.
“He tried to get an agreement that they (Ukraine) would not join NATO and he couldn’t get it,” said Medley.
Still, he and others at the post stopped short of calling for U.S. involvement.
“I don’t think we ought to go in there militarily,” Medley said. “We should arm them and give them any support we can militarily. But don’t send combat troops in there.”
Post Commander Al Mirabella said he believed President Biden’s troubling withdrawal from Afghanistan emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He looked at Afghanistan and he said they didn’t have any leader,” he said. “They should have already had weapons in there (Ukraine), when he (Putin) started talking about it.”
Pete Adams, who enlisted with the Army during the Vietnam War, talked over dinner with retired Army Major Gen. James Donald, whose military career came later, highlighted by service as a task force commander with the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles during the first Gulf War.
“I hope they can hold out,” said Adams. “I think they will run Putin off. Putin doesn’t have that much money to play with. They’re cutting his credit and we need to furnish them with every bullet, every rifle, everything they need.”
“If he (Donald) would go, I’d be right behind him,” Adams said of his friend across the table. “It makes me madder than hell.”
Donald cautioned patience. “The will of the people will prevail; we don’t need to overreact. He (Putin) is up against a tough road to hoe,” he said.
“The people of Russia are going to have a reaction, in their hearts and minds, when they start getting body bags. They’ll begin to have second thoughts whether this is a good idea,” said Donald. “I’m not so sure his people are behind him,”
Mike Respass, who served with both the Navy and the Army, including service aboard a helicopter in the First Gulf War, shared his concern.
“We’re going to end up in World War III if we’re not careful,” he said. “It may be too late; this has been building for a while. He’s trying to rebuild the old USSR.
He said the Ukranians’ Javelin missiles “can raise hell with the tanks.”
Hale, a Vietnam combat veteran, sounded a worrisome note.
“If you’d been in a war, you’d be against war too,” he said. “Rich boys go to college and poor boys go to war.
“I support NATO to get their act together,” he added. “But unless NATO’s going to do anything, we’re going to be at war shortly. Something’s going to happen and we’re going to be at war.”
On Saturday evening at Battery Park, community activist Carol Barfield and the Rev. Eric Zile, rector at Apalachicola’s Trinity Episcoal Church, led a group of about 18 people in a prayer service on behalf of the people of Ukraine.