Surviving heroes

John McCaslin
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Posted: Aug 27, 2003 12:00 AM

Nearly 59 years after the end of World War II, the National World War II Memorial - the first national memorial dedicated to all who served during World War II - will be dedicated in Washington over Memorial Day Weekend 2004.

Last Sunday, this columnist paid a visit to the National Mall construction site - between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial - and was surprised to find much of the memorial already taking shape.

Meanwhile, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) has introduced legislation aimed at honoring American POWs from "the Greatest Generation."

"Over two years ago, two of my constituents who were POWs during World War II in the Pacific Theater approached me about awards they felt they should have received," he said. "The Japanese had imprisoned each of the men, one of whom was a survivor of the Bataan Death March. These men were beaten, tortured and starved - one weighed 70 pounds when he was liberated."

Both men were awarded the Prisoner of War Medal, yet neither received the Purple Heart. Current law for POWs held prior to 1962 requires documentation from the camps or detailed statements from former POW commanding officers to be eligible for the medal, records that are hard to come by given that World War II and Korean war vets are dying by the thousands every week.

The bill would recognize hardships borne by World War II and Korean war POWs by providing additional assistance to those who would have earned the award if they had today's record keeping. It would also require the Pentagon to provide historical information from the period.

WHO'S WHO?

With nine Democrats seeking the presidential nomination, it's hard to know who's who. Just ask South Carolina residents invited to a "Bob Graham for President" event late last week.

As Valerie Bauerlein observed in the State, a Columbia, S.C., newspaper, following the Florida's senator's campaign appearance, "some guests at Thursday's event were scouring brochures for his picture so they would recognize him when he came in."

READ ALL ABOUT IT

The "Joe Lieberman for President" camp is hoping to attract viewers to the first of the Democrats' televised debates early next month, although history suggests more people will be watching sports or sitcoms.

"Joe is gearing up for the first nationally televised presidential debate on Sept. 4. To help him get ready, we're asking our supporters to send us questions you think might come up that night," is the campaign's gimmick.

Still, the question has been posed before in this column: If a potted tree falls over on the dais of a political debate, will anybody hear it? Chances are no, unless you're among the debaters.

"If a Tree Falls in the Woods," in fact, was the title of one study that examined TV coverage of the 2000 campaign debates.

"Until the 2000 campaign, when Fox decided not to cover the (presidential) debates live in favor of baseball and NBC failed to cover a debate in favor of entertainment programming, these debates had always been telecast live by all major networks in prime-time hours - between 8 and 11 p.m. local time," the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate recalled.

Nevertheless, the committee argued that presidential debates, which date back to 1820 (the Lincoln-Douglass debates are considered a significant historic landmark, as are the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960) are the best single way for citizens to cut through the "demagogic advertising that has become the principle staple of campaigns and to make judgments, freed from the filters of journalistic commentary."

For those who will be tuning in to the Weather Channel, you can get a fair and balanced recap of the debate in the newspaper you're now reading.

SUPREME ALLEGIANCE

He died fighting with the U.S. military in Iraq, yet Sgt. Riayan Tejeda, of Washington Heights, N.Y., wasn't an American citizen.

So Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) has offered the Riayan Tejeda Memorial Act of 2003, a bill to extend automatic citizenship to immigrant soldiers who served (or continue to serve) the United States during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"(It is) in honor of soldiers like Sgt. Riayan Tejeda ... who laid down their lives so that all of the people of the United States, regardless of immigration status, could continue to enjoy the freedoms that our Constitution lays out," Rangel explains.

The bill goes beyond current congressional efforts by granting citizenship to all service members that request naturalization and have served in a combat zone designated as part of the Iraqi operation. It also ensures that not only spouses and unmarried children, but also parents of soldiers killed as a result of service in the U.S. military, can apply for citizenship or legalization of status.

As Rangel sees it, "For men and women who decide to don the uniform of the armed forces, their actions on the battlefield should be enough to prove their allegiance and dedication to this land and our families."

MAGNIFICENT MOSQUITOES

While the mosquito-borne West Nile virus is certainly no laughing matter, we had to chuckle at Democratic Rep. Chris Johns when he introduced the Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health (MASH) Act, observing that in his swampy state of Louisiana, "mosquitoes are jokingly considered our state bird, given their size and numbers."

DROUGHT, ANYONE?

"Here in Washington, it's been raining all month, so people aren't talking about drought," complains Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.). "However, just because we aren't talking about it, doesn't mean that we shouldn't be doing something about it."

Apart from recent forest fires engulfing Montana's Glacier National Park, the media have virtually ignored the severe drought out West, which has seen little rain and snow for several years running.

That's one reason Sen. Max Baucus and Rep. Dennis Rehberg, both of Montana, have joined Hastings (the latter's state is currently blessed with an abundance of rain) in introducing companion National Drought Preparedness Acts.

Congress five years ago passed legislation creating the National Drought Policy Commission to examine current U.S. policy on drought. Hastings summarized the commission's 50-page findings by saying: "The U.S. does not have a policy on drought.

"I wish I had just made a joke," he says. "The fact that we don't have a drought policy, however, is a joke - and not a good one at that. Drought is not just an agriculture issue, nor is it only a water-management issue. When droughts occur, forest fires erupt, small businesses close, crop yields decrease, and in many instances, people die."

The bill would provide for better preparation and planning, improved delivery of federal drought programs, and improved weather forecasting and monitoring abilities.

OOPS!

"We are convinced that the leadership of the United States will be able to gain the support of the Untied (sic) Nations and our allies in NATO for a genuine international effort to rebuild and stabilize Iraq." - Letter to President Bush from Sens. Joseph R. Biden (D-Dela.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.).