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Veterans think soldiers will be seen as heroes

Luke Scott's heart is pounding faster than the plane's whirring rotors as he and 30 other fuzzy-cheeked soldiers sit packed like sausages inside a roaring C-130 transport.

So is that of Larkin Scott, 50, who's making the jump with his son. Only dad's heart is thumping with pride, not nerves.

At 1,200 feet, the jump master barks instructions: "Hook up! Check static line! Check equipment."

When the green light flashes, the Scotts and the others hurl themselves into a cloudless blue sky, the younger men a giant step closer to the Army's prestigious Ranger school and, possibly, a blind leap into the black skies over Afghanistan.

"This is a proud day," Luke's dad says after landing. "My son might go to Afghanistan, and I want to go, too. This is a family tradition. I wasn't a hero, but my son will be."

The older Scott volunteered for Vietnam five times, but that didn't earn him the hero's homecoming that greeted World War II vets. But the Providence Forge, Va., resident might get another chance: A career soldier angered by the atrocities of Sept. 11, Larkin Scott, an Airborne Ranger, has come out of retirement.

More than likely, it is his son who will become one of tomorrow's veterans, perhaps even a war hero like Bill Guarnere, 78, of Philadelphia.

"I'm hoping these brave young men get the kind of adulation we did, and I think they will, because they'll deserve it," rasps the tough-talking Guarnere.

He lost his right leg fighting Hitler's forces and became a national celebrity, thanks to the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, which depicted the exploits of the Georgia-trained 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in World War II. "When I got back, I couldn't buy my own drinks if I wanted. Everybody was grabbing the tab. They should be treated the same way when they win, and they've got to win, and they know it. They'll get Osama (bin Laden), the rat fink."

That's why on this Veterans Day, remembrances will be different, tinged by terrorism that has triggered a wave of patriotism unseen since 1945. And that bleak morning two months ago today, says Guarnere, made veterans of us all, especially the young men and women who're headed into the unknown.

John Loud, 84, of Atlanta sees parallels between what he faced in World War II and the battle against a shadowy but determined foe.

"The Japanese wouldn't quit," he says. "These terrorists won't quit until they're rendered harmless or dead. Now a new crop of men and women will have to do what we did, and I think they'll be appreciated for it. This will be more like World War II."

Adds Korean War vet John Davis, 71, of Atlanta: "The whole country is now fully involved. When I came back, there were no big parades. I don't think we'll have a jubilant end to this one, but I think those who fight, who serve, will return to more respect."

Young warriors like Scott, 20, think so, too. "I'm in a store in uniform, people say "God bless' and "Good luck.' It's a pretty awesome feeling," he says.

Adds Willie Cleveland, 17, of Washington, the youngest of the jumpers: "I'm ready to go to Afghanistan, wherever. I'll have a chance to do something for my country."

Jumper classmates Steven Barnes, 18, of Wenatchee, Wash., and Michael O'Neill, 19, of Mansfield, Ohio, say they've been impressed, if a bit embarrassed, at the adulation heaped upon them.

"It's different the way people look at you," says Barnes. "The flags are up everywhere. People are patriotic. It's all kind of amazing."

Vietnam veterans seem particularly supportive of those fighting "America's new war," hoping they'll not be shunned as many of them were, says Jan Scruggs, a combat veteran and father of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

"These soldiers will have served in a war to save American civilians from being murdered by terrorists, so they will be appreciated," says Scruggs. "These guys are expected to win, and unlike 'Nam, losing is not an option. If the Vietnamese were hitting the U.S. with bombs and anthrax, we would have been (seen as) heroes. These guys will be heroes since so much is at stake. This is the most important conflict for us since WWII, and everyone knows it."

Other veterans agree, though some are worried the public's support will fade and give way to protests.

Says Roy Licklider, a political science professor at Rutgers University: "If and when a new peace movement develops in the U.S., I think there will be a lot of concern to try to separate criticism of policy from criticism of the troops who carry it out."

Retired Maj. Gen. Gordan Duquemin, 77, of Atlanta, a veteran of Korea and Vietnam, says after the Korean conflict, "Nobody made a big fuss over me. After Vietnam, I saw people looking at me saying, "What the hell are you in uniform for?' But these guys now are fighting for a clear cause, and all you have to do is look at New York and the Pentagon.

"People know we're going to have to win," he says. "But lives are going to be lost, and the public needs to be prepared for that. Everybody has a personal stake. For the first time since Pearl Harbor, we've been struck on our own land. The parachutists, Rangers and other special forces, I say, they'll go over and get the job done, and they'll be treated very well."

When he returned from WWII, retired Gen. Clarence Irwin, 82, of Atlanta says, "People thought I was great, a hero. These men and women will face many dangers, many may die, and this is a real war, not a political one. This is speculation, but our troops today will be more nearly compared to World War II than other conflicts, with respect and honor. But I am worried. We have people carrying on about Harry Potter, and our people are going to be dying, even though now we have something to fight for, our freedom." Gulf War vet Dominic Listermann, 32, of Cumming, who came home to little more than a few handshakes, agrees, but asserts anything less than a convincing victory won't be acceptable to the public. Many Vietnam veterans want today's young soldiers to be recognized as heroes.

"They'll certainly be treated better than Vietnam veterans," says Jack Pattison, 51, of Marietta. He recalls returning to "the world" after Vietnam, standing outside a bus depot in California "and people would give us the finger."

After returning from the Gulf War, "we had people serving us pizza. There was a world of difference. And there will be this time, too, just because the attacks happened (here)," Pattison says.

America's embrace of tomorrow's veterans heartens Gary Montclair, 50, a Vietnam veteran from Woodbridge, Va., who watched his son, Robert, 22, make his first jump at Fort Benning last week.

"This is awesome," Montclair says. "He'll be treated better because when he fights, it'll be in a war that started because we were attacked. He may risk his life, and naturally that worries me. But he'll be a hero, for sure. At least to me."