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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I read with interest the letter regarding Ralph George and his veterans' speaking program. I hope vets all over the country are doing this. I have -- on my own -- spoken to classes at both elementary and college levels. I have also spoken to service clubs.

I served in an area referred to as "the forgotten theater." The China-Burma-India theater is not even mentioned in many history books. When there is a program on World War II, it is usually devoted to Europe or the Pacific. The CBI (as we call it) was a hostile, unforgiving area, with high mountains, dense jungle, rampant disease (more men fell to disease than to enemy action), foul weather, and rain for half the year (200 to 300 inches). Furthermore, many of the mountain tribes were headhunters.

Many Americans are not aware that we were fighting in China and Burma almost a year before Pearl Harbor and for six months after Japan surrendered. The U.S. government is not even sure how many Americans served in the CBI -- figures range from 200,000 to 750,000. However, most settle for 250,000 personnel. A friend who served in Europe told me that the CBI was used as a threat: "You foul up one time and you'll find yourself in the CBI!"

It's important for Americans to know we were there. Find a CBI veteran in your area and have him speak to your group. A friend of mine doesn't discuss it because he fears no one would believe him. -- BOB FAGELSON, NATIONAL HISTORIAN, CBI VETERANS ASSOCIATION

DEAR BOB: Since I printed that letter, I have heard from readers from both the United States and Canada, describing similar programs involving veterans groups. While I think that veterans sharing their personal experiences in the classroom is a terrific way to bring a chapter in our history to life, not all readers viewed it in the same way. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: The letter from Ralph George about talking to children in classrooms was lacking in a very important point. He gave the impression that war is not so bad. Abby, the job of our armed forces in war is to kill people and destroy property. It's a terrible purpose. The talks should not ignore these realities.

Permit me to quote from a speech Franklin D. Roosevelt gave on Aug. 24, 1936: "I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I HATE WAR!" -- STANTON SCHUMAN, ATTORNEY-AT-LAW, GLENCOE, ILL.

DEAR STANTON: I agree that war is a tragedy and its realities should not be glossed over, but neither should they be belabored. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: The veterans in the classroom program will not work. Most vets cannot tell you about their experiences because that would make them relive them. My brother was a four-time Vietnam vet, and he could not tell anyone what he did. Thank God he is dead and doesn't have to relive that part of his life over and over.

You should never ask vets to talk about major battles they have been in. What they saw was too horrible. I will never reveal some things he told me. They were unspeakable. -- A VETERAN'S SISTER

DEAR SISTER: I respectfully disagree. When a trauma is locked inside, it cannot heal; it grows and festers until sometimes it takes over the person's life. Talking with professionals and others who have experienced the same horror is often therapeutic. Such programs are ongoing at VA medical centers -- as well they should be. Until a person starts talking, he cannot start healing.

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