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Crisis in Yugoslavia

3 Former POWs Enjoy Reunions With Families

Germany: Soldiers get a generally clean bill of health, both physically and emotionally.

May 04, 1999|ALISSA J. RUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LANDSTUHL, Germany — Three U.S. soldiers who were released from captivity in Yugoslavia held joyous reunions Monday with their families, who traveled to Germany with plans to spend every waking hour with the servicemen.

The soldiers and their families appeared briefly on a hospital balcony to wave to journalists and supporters, but they did not answer questions. They still are undergoing an extensive debriefing process at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in this bucolic town southwest of Frankfurt.

Although the three soldiers had said in previous interviews that they were treated well by their Yugoslav captors until their release Sunday, medical personnel said tests showed that the soldiers probably were treated roughly during their capture and early in their 32 days of captivity.

X-rays revealed that Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez of East Los Angeles had two fractured ribs in addition to some minor swelling in his right leg. A CT scan showed that Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone's nose was broken. However, neither man will undergo surgery, according to Army doctors. Two of the men lost a little more than 10 pounds each.

Maj. Gen. David Grange, commander of the 1st Infantry Division to which the soldiers belong, said it seemed that "some of them were poorly treated at the beginning."

Nonetheless, the soldiers' overall physical and emotional prognosis is extremely good, said Col. Mike Sullivan, chief spokesman for U.S. Army Europe. "These are capable folks who are going to come out of this just fine," he said.

Medical personnel here credited the Army's intense training for infantry troops, which has been refined since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, with preparing the three soldiers to cope with the psychological stress and enforced physical inactivity of captivity.

"They did push-ups and sit-ups, they kept themselves occupied and fit," said Lt. Col. Sharon DeRuvo, chief of clinical nursing at Landstuhl.

The soldiers also did well psychologically, perhaps in part because they took care of themselves physically. "What's most difficult is not being in control and not being able to predict what will happen," DeRuvo said.

As part of the process of readjustment, they are being accompanied throughout this period by "buddy escorts," or fellow soldiers from their unit. Until the former POWs' families arrived, these escorts ate with the three soldiers, watched television with them and informed them of what had happened while they were in prison.

During the several minutes that the three posed for a reunion photo, Vivian Ramirez, the mother of Andrew Ramirez, wrapped her arms around her son's waist. Stone, who comes from Smith's Creek, Mich., held his 4-year-old son, Ryan, in his arms while Spc. Steven Gonzales of Huntsville, Texas, the youngest of the three soldiers, smiled a bit tentatively, embracing his parents and an aunt.

The families plan to spend most of the rest of the week here.

"They are very positive and proud of their sons, as all the units are," Grange said. "The unit is immensely proud of how well they upheld Army values of personal courage . . . of honor under some difficult conditions."

Grange said the soldiers, who will not speak to reporters for a couple more days, were looking forward to going home with their families to enjoy "some well-deserved leave" before making a decision about whether to go back to active duty.

Video of events related to the American POWs' release, including the soldiers' reunions with their families, remarks by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and reaction from President Clinton, is available on the Times' Web site: http://www.latimes.com/powvideo.

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