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American Father, Bosnian Mother Bring Home a Distant War

December 21, 1995

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Mirsada Hukic, a war-weary mother in Bosnia, has never met Tom Turner of Charleston, S.C., but she thinks he ought to be nominated for sainthood.

``I can’t believe such a good man exists,″ she said of the retired U.S. Air Force pilot, who has taken in her son, Enes, so he can grow up in peace and learn skills to help rebuild Bosnia.

Turner is a 62-year-old widower and Vietnam veteran, with two sons of his own. One fought in the Gulf War.

He explained it simply on the telephone: ``I know what it’s like to get your tail shot at, and I didn’t want that for Enes. As far as I’m concerned, he is my third son.″

It all started when Enes went to America as an exchange student, when Bosnia was just another normal place. Turner’s wife died after they applied to be a host family, but he went ahead.

Then war broke out. Mrs. Hukic and her husband, Diko, could not support their son in America, but they were afraid to bring him home. Turner, though living on a pension, told them not to worry.

The Hukics are Muslim, and Turner is not, but that did not worry anyone. According to Mrs. Hukic, Turner is saint material.

Enes arrived in the United States as a high school student in September, 1992. Now 19, he is a straight-A college student in computer science with a scholarship and political refugee status. The greatest danger he faces are the alligators in the swamp behind Turner’s house.

Thomas’ support for the Bosnian teen-ager isn’t widely known in Charleston. One resident said Thomas helped Enes not for the publicity, but because he thought it was the right thing to do.

Shy, Enes expresses gratitude in brief words. He plans to finish college and then come home to start a business. Turner is a father to him, ``a very good man,″ he said by phone.

Thousands of young Bosnians have found refuge abroad, but the relationship that has grown between two distant and disparate families goes far beyond the norm.

Their letters back and forth detail in human terms a 3 1/2-year-long war that often seems abstract to people far away.

Though head of microbiology at Tuzla Hospital and a professor, Mrs. Hukic worked often without pay. Her husband was an engineer at a factory that closed.

She cannot afford to call Enes, let alone Turner, and her English dissipates with emotion. She communicates by slow and circuitous mail.

Last month, Mrs. Hukic thanked Turner again and apologized for having no money to send.

``I feel awful about it,″ she wrote, ``but ... Bosnia is ruined, everything is paralyzed, people impoverished, injured and completely confused. Even children are getting old fast.

``A 6-year-old girl from Srebrenica said upon her arrival, `The luckiest are those who are not born.′ It is you who saved Enes ... and he will not (know) these words of the Srebrenica girl.″

Serb troops overran Srebrenica in July, and U.N. officers said 5,500 missing Muslim males were presumed to have been slaughtered.

Turner wept at the letter. He passed it around to friends so they could understand what the Dayton agreement was all about.

``I’ve never met this woman, but I love her,″ he said. ``She has raised a responsible, fine young man. She must be a wonderful mother.″

His own newsy letters are full of the antics of his Doberman pinschers, Ranger and Fred. He includes photos of Enes, a gangling 6-foot-5 teenager grinning happily next to a short, stocky man in a crewcut.

In June, he described Enes’ high school graduation and how proud he was when his third son went to receive special academic honors. That day would have been his own mother’s 80th birthday.

``I sat and watched and tears came,″ Turner wrote to Mrs. Hukic. ``Well, I thought of my high school graduation in ’51, and my sons later. The parents were there. Tears do come from joy.″

Turner drove to Atlanta and pleaded Enes’ case for a refugee visa. He helped him get a scholarship and Rotary Club support.

Mrs. Hukic’s letters reflect a woman of high education and optimistic spirit baffled at how the civilized world she knew suddenly imploded into cruel madness.

Mostly, she worried about her children’s future. Besides Enes, her 15-year-old daughter, Senka, lives with an aunt in Norway.

``Will my children manage to escape the damnation of the Balkans that follows us through the centuries?″ she wrote. And she added:

``In the war, when a human life is not worth much and when one killed person is just a number, I’ve understood (that) ... family and love which ties the family are the most important things, as well as friendship.

``It is simply hard to believe that there is such a good and kind man as you are.″

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