NAPLES — Marine Corps League Chaplain Bob Hoffman served two tours of duty during the Vietnam War and said the war left him feeling betrayed.
“I feel very betrayed by Vietnam because of the withdrawal,” he said. “Those of us who went to Vietnam served with high ideals. We wanted to keep communism from spreading. ... I told teenagers that we were here to stay the course, but I lied. I didn’t know I was lying at the time. And I don’t like to lie.”
So it is no surprise that when it comes to the war in Afghanistan, Hoffman is against withdrawal.
“Why are we there in the first place? We’re there to keep al-Qaida from building radical nations,” he said.
Hoffman’s comments come as President Barack Obama is considering four options for realigning the country’s strategy in Afghanistan. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama will discuss four scenarios with his national security team on Wednesday but declined to offer details about those options on Tuesday. He insisted that Obama has not made a decision about troop deployments.
Military officials have said Obama is nearing a decision to add tens of thousands more forces to Afghanistan, though probably not quite the 40,000 sought by his top general there.
Gibbs said Tuesday that a decision still is weeks away.
When it comes to what Obama should do, veterans are divided on the issue.
Dan Thompson, who served in the Navy from 1980 to 1998, attended the Bonita Springs Veterans Day ceremony at Riverside Park on Wednesday.
Thompson said he closely follows the news of Afghanistan and welcomes a national debate on the war’s strategy.
“We can say our opinion because of days like this,” Thompson said.
His view of an Afghanistan strategy is simple: “Get out of Iraq. Get the troops into Afghanistan. Get the job done. And get out.”
On the other side of the park, James Powell saw the Afghanistan strategy differently.
“I don’t think we should be there,” he said. “I don’t think we can win that war.”
Powell served in the Pacific Theater of World War II. But he said he finds similarities between the war in Afghanistan and the Vietnam War — a war which claimed his son.
“I think it’s a political war like Korea and Vietnam,” he said. “We are going to pull out eventually and it’s going to be back like it was before. They (the Afghans) will go back to fighting.”
Tom Grogan, a retired sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, isn’t fond of the constant comparison of Afghanistan to Vietnam.
“It’s a totally different war,” said Grogan, a Vietnam veteran, who attended the Naples Veterans Day celebration in Cambier Park.
Grogan said going into Vietnam was a political decision but troops were sent to Afghanistan for a reason and they should continue to be sent to Afghanistan until the terrorists are stopped.
“We’ve got to stop the terrorists,” Grogan said. “I’m an Irish-Catholic, liberal Democrat ... but we’ve got to stop the terrorists.”
Terry Howard, a retired corporal in the U.S. Marines, echoed Grogan’s sentiments. Howard said Obama needs to continue to send troops to Afghanistan.
“You can’t hang (the troops) out to dry,” said Howard, a World War II veteran.
Former Coast Guard Seaman First Class John Gamble, who served from 1955 to 1957, said the current conflicts are a cause for concern.
“I believe we shouldn’t have been in Iraq (and later Afghanistan) in the first place,” he said. “But, we are there, and once we’re there we have to fight it out.”
He said his particular concern about Afghanistan is that a similar conflict years ago taught the Russians a lesson.
“So I’m concerned for my country,” Gamble said, “and I think it’s time for people to stand up and be counted, and let it be known how they feel.”
Hoffman, speaking to students at St. Ann School Wednesday morning, said he worries that things like the Fort Hood tragedy last week will sway support away from the work that troops are doing in Afghanistan. As a Marine involved in an unpopular war 40 years ago, he said that attitude will only lead to failure.
“War — it’s evil, it’s horrendous, it messes up your mind and body. But we go to war because we see the necessity,” he said. “Our troops are there building schools, helping them, feeding them to help establish a strong nation.”
Daily News reporters Katherine Albers and Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Bonita Banner reporter Aaron Hale, Marco Eagle reporter Quentin Roux and The Associated Press contributed to this story.