EDITOR’S NOTE - Wars draw outsiders attracted by adventure,
EDITOR’S NOTE - Wars draw outsiders attracted by adventure, profit, dreams of heroism or by a simple desire to help. Here is the story of one American volunteer, who died in Bosnia.
Undated (AP) _ By JASMINA KUZMANOVIC Associated Press Writer
MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) - A need to help drove Colette Webster, to be reborn, and to Bosnia where she died in the middle of someone else’s war.
Maybe the reason was her friendship with a Sarajevo woman, or perhaps it was the recent separation from her husband. That part of the story is not known.
What is certain is that one day almost a year ago in her small Midwestern town, she decided it was not enough to witness the war in Bosnia through someone else’s eyes. From that day, Colette Webster found some answers, and some happiness.
And on Sept. 28 at the age of 27, Colette Webster, who ran a general store in Sunfield, Mich., died in Bosnia.
She died much like the suffering thousands who have filled American TV screens. She wasn’t singled out. She simply got in the way.
On that quiet, sunny Tuesday, a single, rocket-propelled grenade fired from the Muslim side of this shattered town struck her down as she stood with a group of friends. She was the only one hit. A spray of shrapnel pierced her abdomen.
The doctors who worked with her, and loved her, couldn’t save her.
Colette came to Bosnia in January with a humanitarian convoy organized by the international relief organization Suncokret.
″I saw her when she arrived with a truck full of toys for refugee kids,″ recalled Dr. Goran Vujic, who worked with Colette the last eight months. ″I remember she was bursting with energy, so eager to help.″
Colette first worked with refugee children in Citluk and Medjugorje, a town of religious shrines where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to believers. She then moved up to the front-line town of Mostar three months before her death.
Bosnian Croats and Muslim-led government forces have battled over Mostar for months. The city has been severely damaged and both sides have suffered heavy casualties.
The ″New Hospital″ where Colette worked in western, Croat-held Mostar, sits in relative safety on a hill, about a half mile above the Neretva River.
Down toward the river, the danger and destruction grow. About 150 yards from the river, amid piles of debris and charred remnants of a 19th century Franciscan monastery, is the last Croat line. Beyond is no man’s land.
That is where Colette was fatally wounded and died shortly after surgery.
Doctors and nurses were touched by her commitment in a war that was not hers.
″Colette was full of spirit; lively, lovely and always ready to help, to work,″ said the chief nurse, Ruza Hrkac. ″We all loved her.″
She didn’t understand, and didn’t care, about the politics that turned Serbs, Croats and Muslims against each other, said Dr. Toni Kolak.
Bosnia had a human face for Colette even before war began in April 1992.
According to her family, Colette befriended a young woman from Sarajevo who was an exchange student in the United States two years ago. Her stepmother, Janice Webster, said Colette ″read all she could find about war in Bosnia- Herzegovina.″
Personal circumstances might have translated interest into action.
Just separated from her husband, at the end of last year Colette ″felt as if she was at the crossroad of her own life,″ her stepmother said. ″And one day last January she told us, ‘I know it sounds crazy, but I feel I can help down there.’ ″
The New Hospital in western Mostar needed all the helping hands it could get.
″Colette came in a situation when we were terribly understaffed,″ said Hrkac. ″She worked in the emergency ward, undressing and washing the newly arrived patients. It is a hard and dirty job, but she never complained.″
Kolak added: ″She told me her only interest was to help people in need. She did not care who these people were, or whether it was dangerous to help them. Exposure to everyday danger didn’t shatter her belief.″
Last summer, Colette flew to the United States for a brief reunion with family and friends. But there never was any doubt she would return to Mostar.
Colette talked about friends in Mostar, and about a little stray cat she rescued and named Tim. She had ″an undying love for animals, hated to see animals suffer,″ said her father, John Webster.
When she died, nurses said, Tim wouldn’t eat for two days. On the third day, he disappeared.
″It would have been much harder for us to accept Colette’s death, if she had not spent these three weeks in July with us - not only because we were with her, but because we saw she was happy,″ said her stepmother. ″Colette told us one day, ‘You won’t believe me, but I am really homesick for Mostar.’ ″
In Mostar, Kolak said, ″At first we wondered what is this good American girl doing here, what had prompted her to leave her home and friends and come here, to somebody else’s war.
″And then I realized that it was exactly what she said: that she wanted to help. Period.″