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Gulf War Veteran Resource Pages

Internet Offers New Support Networks for Veterans

Author: Julio Ojeda-Zapata
Publication: St. Paul Pioneer Press
Document Dated: April 23, 1995
Date Posted: December 11, 1996

(Includes coverage of the Gulf War Veteran Resource Pages)

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Sunday, April 23, 1995
By Julio Ojeda-Zapata, Staff Writer
©1995, St. Paul Pioneer Press

Every time Bill McBride catches a whiff of hydraulic fluid, he is transported back to Vietnam's infamous A Shau Valley and onto a helicopter shuddering from an enemy fusillade.

McBride, a Marine Corps lieutenant during the Vietnam War, had spent two tense days in 1967 trying to lead his seven-man jungle patrol to safety while eluding North Vietnamese soldiers and their Montagnard trackers. He almost succeeded.

"But, as the helicopter came in to pick us up, they opened up on it,'' McBride recalls. "Everyone between me and my assistant patrol leader was hit, and the helicopter flipped over ... One of the rounds hit the main hydraulic line, spraying the damn fluid over everything.''

That is one of McBride's worst memories of the Vietnam War, which ended 20 years ago this month. But, unlike many veterans, McBride has not tried to blot out the gunshots and cries of dying friends.

"Something that traumatic will gnaw at you, one way or another,'' says McBride, 54, who now works as a San Antonio research engineer. "You have to deal with it.''

So, McBride devised a kind of electronic therapy: He began collecting anecdotal information about the Vietnam War, which he made available on the Internet. Soon, the details of his own A Shau experiences will form part of the archive.

"Now, every time I see that light on my optical drive turn on, I know someone is [dialing in],'' McBride says. "That makes me feel pretty good.''

McBride's archive is called the Vietnam Veterans Home Page because it is part of the Internet's World Wide Web, which presents information on colorful screens known as home pages. The Vietnam page is one of several recently created Web pages focusing on war veterans and their families, including a Korean Conflict page created by the son of a decorated veteran and a Persian Gulf War page assembled by a Chicago-area social worker.

A visit to the Vietnam page is a daunting, haunting experience. Unlike war books that offer edited anecdotes and second-hand information, McBride's Web page contains raw first-hand accounts. A section called "Remembrance'' evokes a reunion of war comrades with collections of Vietnam-era snapshots and harrowing combat reminiscences.

"Veterans have found a voice on the Internet,'' says Deanna Gail Shlee, a fiftysomething Phoenix college student and a member of a four-person "platoon'' that assists McBride from their homes in other states.

"For years, veterans had choked down their experiences and didn't talk about them because their friends and families didn't understand. They had been scattered across the country and cut off from each other,'' Shlee says. "But now, they can get together as a community. They can get it all out.''

The Vietnam page also has helped the families of traumatized veterans. McBride recently received a letter that said, in part: "Three of my uncles fought in Vietnam. They don't talk about it, and I don't ask. My husband's uncle was killed, and his brother only talks about it on the anniversary of his death ... I would like to thank you for this information about the men who served their country ... I want my children to learn about the sacrifices they made for us.''

Hal Barker, a Dallas carpenter, faced a similar problem: His father, Edward Lee Barker, was reluctant to discuss his involvement in the Korean Conflict, including the incident that won him a Silver Star.

After some digging, Barker learned that on Oct. 7, 1951, his father attempted a helicopter rescue of a downed pilot amid heavy artillery fire at the now-famous Heartbreak Ridge. According to the Silver Star citation, "Major Barker [returned] to base only when it became apparent that rescue by helicopter was impossible.''

Partly as a result of his inquiries, Barker, 47, became obsessed with the Korean Conflict. He amassed historical documents and casualty figures, many purchased from the U.S. government. He traveled to Korea and took dozens of photos. He interviewed hundreds of veterans, most of whom had never discussed their war experiences in detail. He even spoke with his father, who consented to a one-time, one-hour interview.

For the most part, Barker's archive remained hidden from public view until February, when his Internet provider offered World Wide Web access. Within 48 hours, Barker had assembled his first web page.

"There had previously been little accessibility to Korean War data,'' he says. "If you walk into a bookstore, you see a lot on Vietnam but little on Korea ... I'm trying to develop a central place for all things related to the Korean War, with my own project as a springboard.''

Grant Szabo, a social worker who works at a Chicago Veterans Administration hospital, also has used personal resources to assemble a page for veterans. His reasons are more medical than historical: He believes that many who participated in the Persian Gulf War now suffer from war-related ailments collectively known as Gulf War Syndrome.

"The things that veterans told me were disturbing,'' says Szabo, 26, who conducted interviews with the veterans as part of a medical-screening program.

"One soldier had degenerative joint disease. He was only 23. ... Another guy was unable to retain anything he learned in college. He would come into my office and cry.'' Szabo discovered that online information about Gulf War Syndrome was spotty, despite its increasing visibility. So he created a Web archive containing relevant articles, medical information, government reports and photos sent in by veterans.

Szabo knew his Gulf War Veteran Resource Pages were being noticed when he began getting calls and e-mail from the U.S. Senate's veterans affairs committee and other powerful figures. That notoriety has made him a bit nervous. As a federal employee, he has to be wary of offending the U.S. government and careful to avoid a conflict of interest.

But Szabo continues his online work because he knows he is helping veterans. "They tell me they are relieved to have this information at their fingertips,'' he says. "I've had people say, `Everything I've read on your page describes what I've been going through, and that has motivated me to get help."

The mission of the GWVRP is to disseminate health related information to veterans of the Persian Gulf War in an unbiased format. The site is operated completely by volunteers and is not affiliated with any government entities or programs. ©1994-2019, Shaw Avenue Consulting.