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Soviet Vets Tour Vietnam Memorial

May 24, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Soviet veterans of the fighting in Afghanistan on Wednesday shared their sorrows with Americans who are mourning friends and relatives killed in the Vietnam War.

The 15 ″Afghantsi,″ as they are known in the Soviet Union, began their U.S. visit with a trip to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which memorializes those killed and missing in America’s longest war.

Dressed like other tourists, the Soviets blended into the throngs of Americans solemnly looking at the 58,156 names etched into the low, black granite wall and the flowers, letters, flags and medals left at its base.

The two wars - America in Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan - are often compared in terms of the trauma they caused the two superpowers and the alienation and other psychological problems faced by veterans.

The Soviet visit is part of an attempt to gain insight into how American veterans coped with their postwar psychological problems. They also want to learn about developments in artificial limbs and other aids for the handicapped, said John Wheeler, president of the Center for Study of the Vietnam Generation.

The memorial and the U.S. mourners ″have ignited our fires, made our pulses beat faster...we have felt ourselves like those who fought in Vietnam,″ said Alexander Karpenko, a 27-year-old veteran with a burn-scarred face and forehead.

Karpenko, wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball cap given him by an American, said he was injured in the explosion of his armored car in a 1981 guerrilla ambush while he helped guard an Afghan army convoy from Kabul to Ghardez.

Nikolai Knerick of Moscow, who fought in Afghanistan from 1982-84, described as ″a spiritual experience″ his coversation through an interpreter with Lewis Puller, a legless veteran of a 1968 ambush at Danang.

The Soviet ″Afghantsi″ put up their own memorial and began their own rehabilitation programs, with the help of World War II vets, he said. Now they are ″waking up the government for social and medical rehabilitation,″ Knerick said.

Puller, 43, recalled that he and his late father, famed Marine Lt. Gen. Lewis B. ″Chesty″ Puller, ″disagreed on everything politically,″ to which Knerick replied, ″that was understandable.″

The Soviets said they have organized the Union of Afghanistan Veterans under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalized policies.

The Soviet veterans, accompanied by psychologists, were invited by U.S. Vietnam veterans who visited them last year on a survey of Soviet war rehabilitation problems. The visitors are staying in private homes.

They will be shown veterans’ hospitals and counseling centers and told how American Vietnam veterans ″had to organize and fight the government to get justice, how we work with Viet veterans now in Congress, how we used the court system″ in such matters as compensation for victims of Agent Orange, said Skip Roberts, executive director of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.

The Soviets plan to take part in the city’s weekend observance of Memorial Day, the national holiday honoring U.S. war dead. They then will visit homes in Cleveland, Ohio; Missoula, Mont.; Bainbridge Island, Wash.; San Francisco, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara in California, and New York.

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