Those left behind in Saigon haunt those who made it out; Marines recall the emptiness of April 30, 1975

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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The early morning sun was burning over Saigon.

The streets were rumbling under the weight of North Vietnamese tanks, triumphantly rolling into the old city unchallenged.

In little more than an hour, one of them would smash through the gates of the presidential palace, and the war for Vietnam finally would be over.

And up in the sky, in a Chinook-46 helicopter, was Sgt. Dave Leet, a 20-year-old kid from Washington state. For hours – they seemed like days – he’d been trying to control thousands of frantic Vietnamese at the American embassy, where he was a guard. He’d watched them scream and cry when they realized they weren’t going with him on a helicopter headed for the safety of an American aircraft carrier offshore.

“After I got on the helicopter and we were flying out over the city and then out to sea, I thought about all the guys who died out there,” he remembers today. “And here we were, running away. And you think about the guys and think, what was it all for?

“I thought about those Vietnamese who relied on us, who we said we’d help. And we just folded up our tents and said good-bye. We didn’t even say good-bye; we just left. It was a real worthless feeling.”

Twenty-five years ago today, Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese, and Vietnam was reunited under communist rule.

The result was hardly a surprise. It was widely assumed that after America pulled out of the war, as it did in 1973, South Vietnam was playing a losing game. But no matter how expected it may have been, the fall of Saigon hit America like a brick, rubbing in the fact that its army, threatened by the fearsome Soviet Union, couldn’t beat a tiny country on the corner of the map.

But its most lasting impact was on the people involved, from the Marines who rode off in helicopters to the Vietnamese who just wished they had.

“Those were terrible, terrifying times,” said Kim Nguyen Leons, a Vietnamese woman who lives in Toledo.

After more than a decade of involvement in southeast Asia, the Paris peace accords signed on January 17, 1973, formally ended the American war in Vietnam. All U.S. forces were to be withdrawn. The only armed Americans left in the country were the Marines who were guards at the Saigon embassy and at four consulates around the country.

As dishonorable a defeat as it seemed, many Americans were happy to see any sort of an ending. All sides had paid a terrible price. America had lost more than 58,000 men, but Vietnam had lost more than 5,000,000 of its citizens.

The war for Vietnam was not over when America withdrew. Soon after the peace accord, North Vietnam officials announced there would be a “return to revolutionary violence” in an attempt to reunify the country. At first, though, neither side made much headway, and the conflict began to look like a deadlock.

At the time, Saigon didn’t seem like such a bad place to be. Sgt. Ted Murray, then a 21-year-old fresh out of training to be an embassy guard, was happy to be booked for Vietnam. “At first, I loved it,” he said. “I’d volunteered for Saigon. I wanted to go. I wasn’t old enough to be part of the war, but I wanted to get a feel for what really happened. I wanted to say I’d been there.”

Shortly after he arrived in Saigon, North Vietnam began a huge offensive that would make quick work of the south. By the beginning of April, 1975, important cities such as Hue and Da Nang were falling with little or no resistance as South Vietnamese troops retreated.

The Americans left in Vietnam knew it was time to think about how they would leave. Mr. Leet, who had been in Saigon for about a year as an embassy guard, helped “burning and shredding all the classified material” like lists of which South Vietnamese had helped the Americans.

As the North Vietnamese Army marched from victory to victory in April, Americans began an airlift for the Vietnamese who had helped the U.S. cause. If left behind, they’d likely be taken prisoner or executed. They were being flown out on transport planes at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airfield.

Mr. Murray and about a dozen fellow Marines were in charge of keeping the crowds of Vietnamese at the airstrip under control. The job became more risky when advancing North Vietnamese troops began shelling the site.

It was there, in the early morning of April 29, that Mr. Murray saw a tragedy that would haunt him for decades.

“I was trying to get some sleep,” he said. “I remember the first rocket hitting in the distance woke me up. I just picked up my M16 and started running out of bed. The second rocket was closer. The third was right outside the building. Then there was nothing.”

By the time he reached downstairs, he saw that the third rocket had hit one of the guard posts. Inside it had been two of his friends, Cpl. Charles McMahon and Lance Cpl. Darwin Judge.

Corporal McMahon and Lance Corporal Judge were the last two Americans killed in Vietnam.

The rocket barrage had another effect: It damaged the runway at Tan Son Nhut enough that the airstrip became unusable. Quickly, the Americans switched into Plan B: transporting Vietnamese and Americans out by helicopter.

Over the previous few weeks, Vietnamese hoping to leave the country had lined up around the block at the American embassy to get an exit visa.

But when the airstrip was rocketed – and as the rumble of North Vietnamese tanks arrived in Saigon – the panic began. Locals began clamoring for entry at the embassy complex around noon on the 29th.

“We were only letting people in at one gate, and people were getting pretty testy out there,” Mr. Leet said. “There was a guy who tried to force his way in with an M1 carbine. One of us grabbed the gun, and another hit him across the jaw with the butt of his rifle.”

That gate was closed in the early afternoon, but people were still sneaking in over walls. Several thousand Vietnamese were inside the complex waiting to be evacuated.

About 6 p.m., swarms of helicopters began to arrive at the embassy to take the Vietnamese to safety on American aircraft carriers waiting offshore. For a while, the helicopters arrived at a rate of one every four minutes. The smaller ones landed on the embassy roof, while larger units set down in the embassy parking lot. Both were tight squeezes.

“It’s a helicopter pilot’s nightmare: going straight down 70 feet from a hover, load up all these people, then go back straight up,” Mr. Leet said.

The helicopters were going to the airstrip site, taking away the Vietnamese and the Marines there.

Mr. Murray got out on the last Chinook helicopter to leave the airstrip, departing after 11 p.m. on the 29th. As soon as he got up in the air, he could see North Vietnamese tanks rapidly advancing. “They weren’t far away. Another 15 minutes, half an hour, and we wouldn’t have been getting out of there cleanly.”

Back at the embassy, a helicopter landed on the roof after midnight with an order that the remaining Vietnamese were to be left behind. It was time for the Americans to go. Mr. Leet said “close to 1,000″ Vietnamese were left in the compound.

Every remaining embassy worker headed up to the rooftop, locking every door behind them. Despite all the barriers they put up – including three sets of locked steel doors – within 30 minutes, Vietnamese were crammed up against the final door that opened onto the roof. “They had broken through them all,” Mr. Leet said.

That last door successfully was blocked with piles of the Marines’ personal gear, he said. But the door had a narrow reinforced glass window to show the men the despair on the other side of the door.

“We could see their faces, hear them saying, ‘Please help us,'” Mr. Leet said. “We were kind of powerless at that point. You just had to turn away. It didn’t make you feel good, but there was nothing you could do. It would have been chaos to let those people out.”

The helicopters started coming in again, taking away embassy officials first, and then Marines. Mr. Leet was on the second-to-last flight out, shortly after the sun rose over the invading tanks.

While the war had a huge impact on the United States, it is easy to forget that its effect on Vietnam was much larger. The same can be said of the effect of the fall of Saigon on the Vietnamese who came to this country.

According to 1997 census data, 770,000 U.S. residents were born in Vietnam. The majority arrived beginning in April, 1975. Kim Nguyen Leons estimates 350 Vietnamese are here locally.

Ms. Leons left Saigon on April 29, 1975, at 11:30 a.m., when she reached a Navy ship off the Saigon coast. After stops in the Philippines and Pennsylvania, she found her way to Toledo, where she had family. For the last 10 years, she has worked for Lucas County as a child-support enforcement investigator.

“The first two years were very difficult,” she said. “Homesick all the time, and the weather in Ohio doesn’t help much. There was the language problem and the cultural barrier. But you know you can’t go back. So you have to make your life here.”

Diep Le also left Saigon on April 29, finding a spot on a boat and fleeing to an aircraft carrier off the coast. As a member of the South Vietnamese army, he feared for his safety if he stayed.He arrived in Toledo in 1975 and has worked at The Andersons since.

“If I would have stayed, they would have put me in prison,” he said. “This country has more opportunities.”

Many Vietnamese who came to this country in 1975 largely settled in California, Texas, and Florida. Most Vietnamese in Toledo arrived later in the “boat people” waves of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“The first 10 years we were here, we were very close to one another,” Ms. Leons said. “But now we don’t have as much of a unified community because people do things outside of us.”

Some still keep their ties to Vietnam close to their hearts. “Vietnam is still my homeland,” said Mary Tran, 58, who left Vietnam just after the fall of Saigon and works in human resources for Lucas County. She left behind her parents and siblings. “I have had a good life in America, and my two sons have been successful here.

“But I’ve told them that when I retire, I want to move back there. I want to die there. If I die before I make it there, I want to be cremated so they can send my ashes to my homeland.”

When the Saigon Marines were in the spotlight, many people back home were doing their best to forget southeast Asia.

But the Marines are still fighting to be recognized for what they did.

Because the American war officially ended when the Paris peace accords took effect on March 28, 1973, the Saigon Marines never received the Vietnam Service Medal that was given to all soldiers who served in that country. Instead, they received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.

While a uniform patch may seem like a minor point, it is a battle worth fighting for many of these Marines. “When the accords were signed, everybody came home, and everybody forgot about everything. But the war didn’t end until we left,” Mr. Murray said.

Marines such as Mr. Murray have been sending letters to members of Congress, defense officials, and others in an unsuccessful attempt to get the medal they think they deserve.

Former President Gerald R. Ford wrote a letter to Defense Secretary William Cohen last year asking him to consider their request strongly.

“I think those Marine guards warranted maximum recognition for their Vietnam service,” President Ford said Friday.

But Secretary Cohen responded to the letter last summer with a denial. “I believe our policies in this area, now 30 years in standing, are equitable and appropriate,” he wrote.

The Marines have pledged to keep trying. But a missing medal is not the only way the fall of Saigon has stayed in the lives of Marines. For some, it’s a cynicism toward authority, brought on by promises not kept by politicians.

“I have a lot of contempt for the politicians who got us into this,” said Mr. Leet, now a pilot for UPS. “Every time something comes up like Kuwait or Bosnia, I really am a skeptic about what the military’s role is. Are they just going to get used for target practice?”

For others, the damage went deeper. In the early 1990s, the memories of Vietnam were starting to get to Mr. Murray.

“I had survivor’s guilt that we had lived and that Judge and McMahon had died,” he said. He had never told his family about the rocket attack.

“I also had the feeling that we had let every man and woman who had served in Vietnam down because we turned tail and ran. It took me two, three years with a [veterans’] counselor to realize that there was nothing we could have done differently.”

While Mr. Murray thought he had let down others who had served in Vietnam, others seem to have wished they could have been in his shoes. He said his counselor required proof that he had been a Marine at the embassy because several of his other patients had claimed falsely to have been on that last helicopter out of Saigon.

“They thought of us last few as heroes,” he said. “And I thought we had lost the war for everybody.”

Mr. Murray, 46, a manager for a computer-support company in Arizona, is able to put his experience into perspective. “I can accept it now. I can understand that my old fears and my thoughts weren’t justified. Now, I can live with what happened.”

Art council’s Aguilar asked to lead CitiFest

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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CitiFest officials have made an offer to the woman they want to be the organization’s next executive director.

After a board meeting yesterday, the organization asked Jan Aguilar, the executive director of the Performing Arts Council of Toledo, to take over the organization, a nonprofit group that plans public events like the summertime Rallies by the River.

“The offer was made this afternoon,” Lisa Silverman, interim CitiFest administrator, said.

Through an assistant at the arts council, Ms. Aguilar refused to comment on the offer.

If she accepts the job, she would replace Terri Marshall, who resigned in February after holding the post for less than a year.

As director of the arts council, Ms. Aguilar plans one of the city’s largest public events, the annual First Night Toledo celebration on New Year’s Eve.

Ms. Aguilar was one of two finalists for the position, along with Shelley Crossley, events coordinator for United Health Services. Ms. Crossley plans the annual Northwest Ohio Rib-Off and Taste of Toledo. The finalists interviewed with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner on Tuesday before the mayor left for his trip to Japan.

CitiFest has had a tumultuous last few months. In January, the organization had its liquor permit revoked after some of its volunteers were caught selling beer to underage drinkers last summer.

It had serious financial problems until the city agreed last month to give it $450,000 over three years in exchange for four seats on CitiFest’s board.

Ms. Silverman, who is helping to run CitiFest until a permanent executive director is hired, said the organization hoped to get a response to the offer by tomorrow.

Council opposes liquor permits; City to change stance if conditions improve

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Toledo council followed through on its threats and last night asked state authorities not to renew the liquor licenses of two East Toledo bars that attracted police attention more than 100 times in 1999.

But council members were quick to add that they will reverse themselves if the bars can shape up in the next few months.

“I consider this to be probation,” council President Peter Ujvagi said to Robert Croak, who operates The Main Event and Club 128 on Main Street. “We’re a long way from where we need to be, but things are going in the right direction.”

Toledo police asked council to take the action, which seeks to have the state Liquor Control Division hold hearings on whether the bars’ liquor licenses should be renewed.

At a four-hour hearing Monday, police said the bars are centers for underage drinking, drug abuse, and disorderly conduct. In 1999, police answered 93 calls to the Main Event and 35 to Club 128. Neighborhood residents had a litany of complaints, from loud noise to public urination.

By a 12-0 vote, council agreed to request the state liquor hearings. But Mr. Ujvagi said that Mr. Croak has made large strides in addressing the problems and said that he is willing to withdraw the request if the improvements continue.

“A great deal of progress has been made in the last few months, and if more is done, I’ll sponsor the resolution myself” to withdraw the request, Mr. Ujvagi said.

Mr. Croak said he is happy to work with council to make improvements. He said he has increased parking lot security, added outdoor toilet facilities, and taken other steps to make the two bars more acceptable to neighbors.

“I understand the concerns, and I want to work with council to make the changes we need,” he said.

Mr. Ujvagi said one of the biggest remaining changes he will require is increased training of bar employees to help stop underage drinking. Mr. Croak said the training sessions will begin soon.

Council considered a similar resolution for a third establishment, Toledo Live, at 23 North Summit St., which was the target of police action. But council voted to send that resolution back to the administration after it learned the bar has been closed for six months and that its owner has no plans to reopen it.

In other action, council:

* Approved a new collective bargaining agreement with the Toledo Police Command Officers Association.

The pact gives TPCOA members pay raises of 2, 3, and 4 per cent over the next three years and raises the city’s contributions to the employees’ pension by 1 per cent. The changes are the same as those negotiated with the Toledo Police Patrolman’s Association.

As part of the agreement, the city will require annual fitness examinations for all command officers. It allows for four sergeant positions in administrative sections to be filled with civilian supervisors, freeing up officers for street duty.

The command officers’ union represents about 145 deputy chiefs, captains, lieutenants, and sergeants. It has ratified the agreement.

* Passed the city’s annual capital improvements budget, which details more than $99 million in spending in 2000 on projects ranging from street repaving to park improvements.

This year’s budget is the first since 1996 not to include any payments toward the Jeep project, which has taken a total of $4.8 million from the capital improvement budgets of the last three years.

* Discussed changes in the proposed living-wage law that is expected to be put before council next month. The task force proposing the law, led by Councilman Louis Escobar, met yesterday morning to make several minor changes in the proposal, including extending an exemption to seasonal employees.

The task force will meet again May 3 to adopt a final version of the proposal, Mr. Escobar said, with council probably voting on it May 23. Mr. Escobar said council likely will have to make the final decision on how small a company will have to be to be exempt from the legislation.

Fight for Elian fueled by rage against Castro; Miami Cuban-Americans have clout, long memories

By Michael D. Sallah and Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writers

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MIAMI — Just before dawn, the ritual begins.

A crowd gathers around a modest bungalow, locks arms, and chants the name of the small boy inside.

The cameras capture the image, and the rest of the world watches as another day begins in the international saga of Elian.

In most places, the debate over the fate of a 6-year-old boy would be left to the courts, but here, it has escalated into a daily media drama.

Few American cities have hosted such crises, but few places are like Miami.

This city on Biscayne Bay has changed more than just about anywhere else in America in the last 40 years. It’s gone from a sunny playground for white northerners – “the sun and fun capital of the world,” as Jackie Gleason used to say – to a symbol of vice, corruption, and excess.

“Paradise lost,” Time magazine declared in the 1980s.

Many changes have occurred, but the most obvious one has been the enormous influx of Cubans since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. Passionate about their homeland and strong enough to dictate foreign policy, they are perhaps the most powerful minority enclave in the nation.

Not since the infamous Mariel boat lift 20 years ago has this group so dominated the nation’s attention.

South Florida is home to about 800,000 Cuban-Americans. The ways they’ve transformed the landscape have been put on display by the Elian controversy, which has been left to simmer by a federal court injunction late last week.

Their passionate hatred of the bearded dictator has long dictated American foreign policy toward the island 90 miles off Key West. “The Cold War has ended for the rest of the world, but unfortunately, not for the Cuban people,” said Dr. Uva de Aragon, assistant director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

Now a majority in Miami, most Cuban-Americans are proud, patriotic citizens of their new country. But when it comes to Castro, the rule of law sometimes has become secondary.

Last month, Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas stunned Americans when he said that local police would not “assist the federal government in any way, shape, or form to inappropriately repatriate Elian Gonzalez to Cuba.” Mr. Penelas’s comments caused controversy around the country but endeared him to his constituents. A Miami Herald poll last week said that 74 per cent of Miami Cubans agreed with the mayor’s statement.

The same poll showed that one out of three Miami Cubans believed that protesters would be justified in physically stopping federal agents from taking legal custody of Elian.

Statements and poll results such as these don’t help the city of 368,000 fight the perceptions of others, who have called Miami everything from a banana republic to a city in virtual secession.

“You keep hearing in the media about ‘the Cuban-Americans in Miami’ and you see all these people standing in front of a house to keep a father from his son,” said Elena Freyre, executive director of the Cuban Committee for Democracy. “The rest of the country looks at these people and says, ‘Who are these crazy people?'”

Says Dr. Aragon: “Miami had a lot of difficulties with its image. But it’s so easy to judge rather than to try to understand.”

*

Miami began as a small resort town carved out of the cypress and pine forests of South Florida. Its founders were Ohioans looking to escape snowbound winters: Julia Tuttle and William Brickell from Cleveland and Henry Flagler, a one-time Toledoan who built the railroad connecting the nascent town to the rest of the country.

The ocean breezes and tropical climate were magnets for northerners, first as a winter respite and later as a permanent home. Its population grew from 1,500 in 1900 to 249,000 fifty years later.

A growing array of starlets and entertainers flocked to places such as Hialeah racetrack and the Fountainbleu Hotel. Songs like “Moon Over Miami” hit the airwaves. Hotels sprouted on the beachfront like palm trees.

Instead of leaving every Easter to trudge back north, people began staying. Miami began to buzz year round.

Across the Florida Straits, another city was attracting northerners looking for a good time. Havana, with its grand hotels and casinos, beckoned thousands every year for everything from honeymoons to gambling binges.

That changed in 1959. Castro, then a 33-year-old political idealist, led a revolution against the corrupt Fulgencio Batista, the dictator who had been backed by the U.S. government.

In short order, he seized millions of dollars in American property, from sugar mills to resorts, and committed his new government to the Communist cause.

For wealthy Cubans who had profited under the Batista regime, it was clearly time to leave. Thousands of them fled to the nearest free land, Florida, and began plotting their return.

They thought it would be just a few years. It’s been four decades. Castro has ruled longer than any other world leader.

Since that first wave, more Cubans have found their way to South Florida. Another wave arrived in the late 1960s, and the Mariel boat lift in 1980 – which sent much of Cuba’s prison population across the Straits – brought 125,000 to the Florida shores.

As their numbers grew, the Cuban exiles in Miami became a force in everything from state politics to culture. They built communities, started businesses, and began families. They are easily the wealthiest and most educated of all Latino groups in America. But they’ve never lost sight of the island 90 miles to the south.

“You don’t forget when you have relatives who are suffering over there and you’re told about them every day,” said Mary Reyes, 28, a Miami attorney whose parents were born in Cuba.

Throughout the 20th century, tens of millions of immigrants have arrived in America. For most, one of their biggest goals was to assimilate into American society, eventually discarding their native languages and cultures.

But the Cubans were different, said Dr. Aragon, who left in 1959.

“They always thought they’d go back,” she said. “They didn’t want to forget their language, and they made sure their children learned it. They were not like most immigrants.”

*

In part because of that attitude toward assimilation, tensions have been high between Miami’s various racial and ethnic groups for decades. Two race riots occurred in the 1980s and a long series of protests ever since.

“Racial animosity never occurs in a vacuum – there is always a history behind it,” wrote Robert Steinback, an African-American columnist for the Miami Herald. “Non-Cubans resent the powerful economic, social, and political machine that Cubans built here – one that virtually excludes them. Cubans, justifiably proud of their achievement, feel little obligation to invite others to the party.”

And as Cubans have grown in power in Miami, many of the city’s whites have moved to more suburban places such as Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.

Cubans are now the majority in Miami, and much of the tension has been transferred to infighting within the exile community.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the most powerful figure in the conflict was undoubtedly Jorge Mas Canosa. The son of a Cuban army veterinarian, he fled his homeland in 1960, a year after Castro’s revolution. In Florida, he founded a telecommunications company and became one of the wealthiest Latinos in the nation, with a net worth over $250 million.

His hatred of Castro was legendary, and in 1981, he and a group of other wealthy exiles started the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which was dedicated to Castro’s overthrow.

The Bay of Pigs veteran, who died in 1997, was known for his fiery speeches and condemnations of pro-Castro Cubans or those whose opposition to the dictator was not strong enough.

Americas Watch, a human rights watchdog group, issued a report in 1994 that said Miami suffered from a “general atmosphere of fear and danger” because of the actions of Mr. Mas Canosa and others who attacked those not strong enough in condemning Castro. The report criticized the U.S. government for helping organizations like the CANF and other “groups that have been closely identified with efforts to restrict freedom of expression.”

Take the case of former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, Jr. In the early 1990s, he wrote a series of editorials opposing an effort by CANF to strengthen the embargo. Mr. Mas Canosa fought back. In 1992, he began a campaign against the Herald, distributing thousands of bumper stickers and putting up billboards with the slogan, “I don’t believe the Herald.”

Mr. Lawrence received death threats and was forced to travel with bodyguards. Newspaper vending machines were smeared with feces. In recognition, the Scripps Howard Foundation gave Mr. Lawrence its Service to the First Amendment award.

Through the administrations of President Reagan, President Bush, and now President Clinton, Mr. Mas Canosa was the principal architect of America’s foreign policy toward Cuba. The embargo of the island nation begun by President Eisenhower in 1960 has been strengthened further, and American foreign policy has shown few signs of concessions to its southern neighbor, even as it extends trade with other Communist nations that violate human rights, like China.

*

Miami has had an image problem ever since the early 1980s. It became a center of international drug trafficking, crime was rampant, and the TV series Miami Vice taught viewers that South Florida was a haven for undesirables.

It didn’t get better in the 1990s, which included a major hurricane in 1992, a rash of tourist murders, and a wave of corruption that has led to the arrests of 35 public officials since 1996, including two county commissioners and three city councilmen.

Mayor Xavier Suarez, a Harvard-educated lawyer, was only in office four months in 1998 before he was removed by a Florida appeals court judge because of voter fraud in his election. He had been “elected” on a platform of bringing the city back from the brink of bankruptcy. Its bonds were rated below junk bonds by Wall Street analysts, and the state of Florida was forced to step in to bring stability to city government.

But among all these troubles, moderate activists have hope that the hard-line anti-Castro position represented by the CANF may be slowly fading.

One of the biggest gaps is generational. For Cubans who arrived in Miami in the 1960s, opposition to Castro is still passionate.

“Don’t underestimate how the older generation feels,” Desiree Calas-Johnson, 26, a native Miamian, said. “You have to understand that they lost everything in Cuba: their homes, their businesses, and their land.”

But those who arrived in the 1980s or 1990s – or who arrived at a young age and have grown up in America – are generally more willing to forge a productive connection between the two countries.

A 1997 poll conducted by Florida International University showed that 52 per cent of Miami Cubans want the government to have a dialogue with the island. But among those who arrived in the 1990s, 75 per cent do.

Cuban Americans born in the United States are more than three times as likely to oppose the embargo as those who came to this country in the early 1960s, the poll said.

Cuban culture has flowered in America in the 1990s. Cuban music especially is increasingly popular; the movie Buena Vista Social Club and its soundtrack album have been enormous hits and drawn attention to the traditional son music of Cuba.

That exposure has helped people see Cuba as a more complex issue, Ms. Freyre said. “Before, people just thought of the crazy man with the beard and some more crazy people in Miami. Now people know more about the culture and the complexity.”

In contrast, Cuban musicians often were prevented from playing in Miami by local officials who said such performances would help Castro gain legitimacy.

Other events have pushed Miami’s Cubans toward moderation, including the 1998 visit to Cuba by Pope John Paul II and the death of Mr. Mas Canosa.

Ms. Freyre leads the Cuban Committee for Democracy, which was formed in 1992 as a moderate alternative to the CANF. She said she has gotten a few threats of violence from hard liners, but “it’s mostly name calling.”

“Miami is the only place that I know of where intransigence is something to be proud of and moderation is something to be ashamed of,” she said.

She estimates that, a few years ago, about 30 per cent of Miami Cubans supported her group’s stance. She thinks that number, while still a minority, is on the rise.

“The people who arrived in the 1960s, they had everything taken away from them,” she said. “They were at the pinnacle of their careers and they had it all taken away. But younger people just want to see it resolved somehow, and they’re not as strident.”

While the furor over Elian Gonzalez has focused all of the pro and anti-Cuba forces into one small 6-year-old boy, the debate will survive long after his case is resolved, which could happen as soon as this week.

Neal Sonnett, a native Miamian and a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that the Elian episode will be another time for the rest of America to judge his hometown. How the city reacts to whatever happens will go a long way toward determining how the rest of the world views this tense mix of peoples.

“Miami’s an incredible city,” he said. “It’s vibrant, alive, and it’s had a colorful history. I know it’s gone through a lot of different stages, but it will survive this.”

Ohio could be next to rid ‘squaw’ from map

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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The next time you head out to South Bass Island and your boat approaches Put-in-Bay Harbor, look a little to the right. If you look closely, you might be able to see the beginnings of a controversy.

That little body of water on the right is named Squaw Harbor, and sometime soon, it might be Exhibit A in a battle over Indian traditions and the way American culture interprets them.

“We haven’t done any organized protests yet,” said Bob Allen, a coordinator at the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio. “But I’m sure that’ll be next.”

Across the country, Native American groups have begun organizing around the issue. They say the word “squaw” is offensive and should be eliminated from the landscape.

Last week, Maine Gov. Angus King became the latest to sign a law that will change the name of all “squaw” place names in the state. Minnesota and Montana have enacted similar legislation, and the issue has come up in at least five other states.

According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, Ohio has 10 place names that include the word “squaw.” Two are in northwest Ohio: Squaw Harbor at Put-in-Bay and small Squaw Island in Sandusky County. Michigan has 29 “squaw” place names, but none near Toledo.

Ohio is no stranger to conflicts over American Indian imagery. The Cleveland Indians and their mascot, the forever smiling Chief Wahoo, has been a constant target of criticism. And in 1997, Miami University changed its team nickname from the Redskins to the RedHawks after the Miami tribe council said it found the old name offensive.

The origin of the word is disputed. Some older dictionaries claim it is derived from a word in the Massachusett language that simply means “woman.” But recent research suggests that its true origin is the Iroquois word “otsikwaw,” which was a native word for the female genitals. Among Native Americans, it is considered derogatory, comparable with calling someone a prostitute or a harlot.

“It’s very offensive,” said Joyce Mahaney, president of the Toledo-based American Indian Intertribal Association. “People say it in conversation, because they’ve read it in history or maybe they’ve seen the word in doing genealogical research. We try to educate them that it’s offensive.”

Even many of the dictionaries that favor the “woman” derivation still note that the word is considered derogatory.

The names that dot America’s landscape have been the subject of debate before. There are place names that offend just about every ethnic and racial group, from Italians and Jews to Chinese and Hispanics.

Twice, the federal government has gotten involved to eliminate whole groups of names considered offensive. In 1963, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names created a rule that changed all instances of the “N word” across the landscape to “Negro.” More than 1,000 names had to be changed.

One of those was in Ohio: Negro Run in Monroe County. Four years ago, local officials asked the federal board to change the name again, this time to Salem Run, because changing times had made some consider Negro Run offensive as well.

There are seven former “N word” places in Michigan, including what is now known as Strong Island, located in the River Raisin near downtown Monroe, just west of I-75.

The other blanket change the federal board has made occurred in 1974, when it voted to change all instances of “Jap” to “Japanese.”

Roger Payne, the board’s executive secretary, said that Native American groups have twice asked the board to eliminate “squaw” from the 928 place names it recognizes with the word. But he said there was no agreement on what to replace the word with, so the board decided to deal with them on a case-by-case basis.

Changing a name is a fairly straightforward process. Anyone can send a letter of complaint to the federal names board asking for a change. The board then asks for an opinion from the local government agencies involved, such as a city council or county commissioners.

“If it doesn’t have the approval of a local body, it has less of a chance of being successful,” Mr. Payne said. “Our biggest concern is that we have names that people actually use.”

A similar request goes to the state body in charge of naming, which is the Department of Natural Resources in both Ohio and Michigan. Finally, the federal board votes on whether to make a change.

But despite the debates over “squaw” and other words, a request to change an offensive name is fairly rare, Mr. Payne said. Only five have been made in the last five years, not counting the mass changes in Minnesota, Montana, and now Maine.

The issue doesn’t seem to have come up much in Ohio. “It’s never been an issue here,” said Michael O’Brien, a commissioner in Trumbull County near Youngstown. Trumbull has the most “squaw” names of any Ohio county, including a Squaw Creek, a Squaw Valley Park Lake, and, as Mr. O’Brien puts it, “just about everything else: Squaw Trail, Run, Lane, Street.”

But Mr. O’Brien said that he would have “no opposition” if someone wanted to change the names in his county.

Ottawa County Commissioner John Papcun said that he has watched the debate over Indian mascots with interest. “I’m a big [Cleveland] Indians fan,” he said, “and I played ball for Port Clinton, and our nickname’s the Redskins.”

But he said that he would not have a problem with changing the name of Squaw Harbor on South Bass Island. “I think it would be very appropriate to be changed, because I think that is offensive to a gender,” he said. “I think it should be changed.”

But Dale Burris, a trustee in Put-in-Bay Township, isn’t so sure. “I can’t see that,” he said. “I’m from the old school. No one’s ever brought it up.”

He said he didn’t know that some Native Americans find the word offensive because of its derivation. “I tell you what: I would bet that not one person in Put-in-Bay Township knows that,” he said.

Ms. Mahaney said that lack of knowledge is key to resolving the issue.

“People just don’t know,” she said. “They think it’s appropriate to use the word, which is why education is important.

UT paper seeks to be independent; Students fear interference by Kapoor

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

The student newspaper at the University of Toledo is hoping to become independent from the university administration, in part because it fears editorial interference from President Vik Kapoor.

“The staff has a strong fear that the university wants to turn this into Vik Kapoor’s propaganda paper,” said Keith Tarjanyi, editor-in-chief of The Collegian.

Such a move would break eight decades of association between the student newspaper, founded in 1919, and the university. In the past year, the paper has been very critical of the Kapoor administration in its editorials, and Collegian editors say they fear retribution is coming.

University spokesman Joe Brennan said the administration would have to examine any proposal but said that the university is “willing to talk about it.”

He denied that the university has any intention of interfering with the newspaper because of its editorial stance or its reporting.

UT’s policy and procedures manual seems to support the students’ cause. “Whenever possible the student newspaper should be an independent corporation financially and legally separate from the University,” the manual states.

On Tuesday, The Collegian’s staff will meet to debate the issue of independence and vote on a proposal to present to the administration. Mr. Tarjanyi said no staff members have raised any objections to the plan to him.

The university sets an annual budget for The Collegian, but the paper is required to return all its revenues to the administration. This year, the newspaper will “profit” several tens of thousands of dollars, Mr. Tarjanyi said, but the money will be returned to UT.

The Collegian is expected to propose two financial deals with the university. First, the university could let the paper keep its revenues from this year, which Mr. Tarjanyi estimates will total between $190,000 and $200,000. Alternately, UT could provide the Collegian its anticipated funding for next year, about $145,000, and not ask that it be repaid.

In either case, The Collegian would then become independent from the university financially, never again asking for money. It would remain a student organization, using university space, and would still distribute the paper for free.

Mr. Tarjanyi said he believes the administration will reduce the paper’s funding in coming years unless it becomes financially independent.

A new board of directors, named by the paper’s staff, would be appointed to provide the oversight role the Central Board of Student Media currently provides.

“We want to become a better newspaper,” Mr. Tarjanyi said. “We’d get more guidance from people with expertise in newspapers and fewer administrators and people who have no business being on the board.”

The makeup of the Central Board is one of the paper’s points of contention with the university. On Thursday, Provost Henry Moon announced an entirely new slate of members for the 11-seat board. Previously, board members had served three-year terms; now, they will serve one year at a time. Six of the 11 members are faculty or staff. The remainder are students, appointed by student government and Dr. Moon.

Mr. Tarjanyi said that none of the 11 members have served on the Central Board before.

Mr. Brennan said the move is part of a university-wide restructuring of committees to make UT run more efficiently.

But Mr. Tarjanyi said he worries it is an attempt to exert control over the paper’s content. “It’s silly that the administration wants to have so much control over this newspaper,” he said. “This is a student organization, a student publication.”

Dr. Bhal J. Bhatt, a professor of management and the new chairman of the Central Board, acknowledged last night that “none of the members have served before, and that’s precisely to provide an objective overview of what’s going on and how to improve this very important student activity,”

He said the committee will work hard to make sure the newspaper maintains high professional standards and provides training to students.

He said he assumes his new post with “no preconceived notion, no instructions from anybody.”

“I would be absolutely surprised if any attempt is made to muzzle the voice of the students,” Dr. Bhatt said. “That’s not the intention of anybody, and were it so, I wouldn’t even get near the committee.”

Dr. Bhatt said he has extensive experience in fact-finding, mediation, and arbitration.

This is not the first clash between the Kapoor administration and The Collegian this year. In February, an administrator wrote a letter to Mr. Tarjanyi demanding that he quit his outside job. Mr. Tarjanyi has been employed by The Blade since Jan. 10 as a temporary, part-time news assistant, a clerical position that does not involve writing articles.

A decades-old university policy does not allow The Collegian’s editor-in-chief to hold outside employment. In exchange, the editor-in-chief is paid about $10,000 a year, which helps cover tuition, room, and board costs. But administrators could not point to a single time the policy had been enforced, while several past editors had held jobs at The Blade and elsewhere.

Mr. Tarjanyi said he considered the move an attempt to intimidate the newspaper. The main faculty union on campus passed a resolution calling it “selective enforcement” and stating its support for Mr. Tarjanyi.

Eventually, UT agreed to let him keep his outside job.

Mr. Brennan said that the administration has no intention of restraining what the newspaper publishes. “There has never been any prior restraint, never been any retribution or penalty for publishing something,” he said. “I respect the independence of the student media.”

Mr. Tarjanyi said that “we haven’t run into many problems this year” on editorial issues, but said “we’re assuming the potential is there.”

Mr. Brennan is one of the 11 new members of the board, which Mr. Tarjanyi said was a conflict of interest because, as the university spokesman, Mr. Brennan wants to put the university in the best possible light. Also on the board is Calvin Lawshe, the interim dean of students, who is also a former university spokesman.

“Since when in the real world does the government control newspapers?” Mr. Tarjanyi asked.

Mr. Brennan said he did not consider the situation a conflict, and pointed out that previous university spokesmen have sat on the board without conflict.

UT appoints dean of newest college

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 15

The University of Toledo’s newest college finally has its first permanent dean.

Jerome Sullivan, interim dean of the college of health and human services, is being given the permanent post, the university said yesterday. “He’s an outstanding dean,” said UT President Dr. Vik Kapoor. “I’m very pleased with the leadership he has provided. He’s the best man for the job.”

Mr. Sullivan has been at UT since 1971, holding a variety of jobs in what was the department of health and human services. He was department chairman 19 years. He has received several national honors, including president of the 35,000-member American Association for Respiratory Care.

In April, 1999, the UT board of trustees made the department a full-fledged college, and Mr. Sullivan was named its interim dean.

But despite his experience, some have questioned his lack of academic credentials. Mr. Sullivan received his bachelor of arts from Ohio University in 1969, but he did not get a master’s degree until 1989, from UT. He has no PhD but is a candidate for the degree.

Traditionally, deans of academic colleges usually have a doctorate degree. At UT, all other deans have doctorates except law school Dean Philip Closius, who has the doctor of laws degree that would be expected of someone in his position.

“There are certainly people who are very troubled about that,” said Matthew Wikander, president of the UT chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which represents most UT faculty.

“The notion that a dean without a PhD would oversee the tenure and promotion process for people who have PhDs and have active research agendas, which is the case in health and human services, it’s caused some concern. I guess the senior administration doesn’t share that concern,” Dr. Wikander said.

Mr. Sullivan defended his candidacy. “I have a strong academic record over 30 years, and I don’t believe my not having the credential will affect my ability to do the job,” he said. He said he has completed the requirements for a doctorate in higher education administration except for his dissertation. He expects to complete that in about a year.

Others in the college and throughout the university rallied to support the new dean.

“It’s unbelievable how someone could be put down at this point in his career for that,” said Dr. Marion Boss, chairwoman of the criminal justice and social work department. “The major people in his college certainly support his appointment.”

“That doesn’t cause me a problem,” said Trustee James Tuschman, chairman of the board’s academic affairs committee. “I think the folks in the college of health and human services will rally around him.”

Dr. Kapoor said Mr. Sullivan’s time at UT has convinced him that he is qualified for the position. “He has more than 20 years of experience,” Dr. Kapoor said.

In a memo to faculty and staff, Provost Dr. Henry Moon said Mr. Sullivan is “known across campus as a student-oriented faculty member and as an experienced, successful administrator.”

Mr. Sullivan was one of two finalists for the position. The other was Dr. Rik D’Amato, a professor at the University of Northern Colorado.

The appointment means that for the first time in Dr. Kapoor’s presidency, most of UT’s nine academic dean positions are filled.

Interim deans run the colleges of business, education, arts and sciences, and university college. Dr. Kapoor expects to fill those posts in the next few months.

Underage drinking drops, but teen drivers still dying; Toledo area looks for better ways to fight alcohol use

By Joshua Benton and Kelly Lecker
Blade Staff Writers

Page A1

As a rule, teenagers do not need much of a reason to party.

But on March 22, there was plenty to celebrate. Gary Walbolt was turning 18.

The celebration would turn deadly within hours for Gary and two of his closest friends. The three spent the evening drinking, then got in a car and headed to nearby Delta.

At speeds estimated at 90 mph, their 1991 Pontiac failed to make a curve, slamming into a pole. All three young men died at the scene. One had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal driving limit.

Many local people shook their heads at the horror of three young lives lost and whispered about how they got the alcohol.

But despite occasional tragedies like this one, underage drinking is not a trend on the rise. Today’s teens drink significantly less than their parents’ generation did, and teen drunken-driving deaths in Ohio have dropped more than 65 per cent since the late 1980s.

Last Sunday, Ottawa Hills police arrested 13 teenagers at a home on Brittany Road after an underage drinking party. Police said several were unconscious. But even Ottawa Hills Police Chief Ron Jornd said he believed such parties had become less common in recent years.

“It’s not an out-of-control problem,” he said.

While the numbers have improved, teenage drinking is still the No. 1 cause of death among young people. But those trying to fight the problem are struggling to find new ways to bring the numbers even lower.

Two traditional forces against teen drinking – Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) – have run into major problems.

MADD is seeing some of its chapters close because of a lack of volunteers. And DARE faces criticism from many who say it just does not work.

“A lot of people are looking for something new to try, because they’re frustrated with the options they have now,” said Dr. H. Wesley Perkins, a sociology professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York and the creator of a new way of fighting teen drinking.

Fewer teens drinking

Underage drinking is not new. Several national studies show that fewer students use alcohol now than teens two decades ago did.

According to the federal government’s National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, 49.6 per cent of teens age 12 to 17 drank in any given month in 1979. That dropped to 27 per cent in 1991.

In the 1990s, the numbers have leveled out. In 1998, only 19.1 per cent drank.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study limited to high school students shows that about 50 per cent have had a drink in the last month, and 30 per cent have had five or more drinks in one sitting. That is roughly the same number as nine years ago.

“I hate to say it is a constant, but as a student myself in the ’70s it was there,” said Robin Rayfield, principal of Pike-Delta-York High School, where the three Fulton County teens had attended. “It’s a significant problem now, and it probably was back then. Frankly kids, when they’re making choices, might not always be making the right ones.”

The downward trend has been reported for the Toledo area as well.

Dr. Bill Ivoska, director of admissions at Owens Community College, has studied the drinking patterns of Lucas County public and Catholic school students every two years since 1990. Over that time, the percentage of high school seniors who say they had had at least one drink over the previous year has stayed steady at about 80 per cent.

The most recent survey, in 1998, featured an across-the-board drop in teen alcohol use, including a drop from 82.8 per cent to 77.3 per cent among seniors. “That was the first time we saw a significant decline,” Dr. Ivoska said.

The first alcohol education for most young people comes from Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE. Aimed at fifth graders, DARE is a once-a-week, 17-week course taught by uniformed police officers on how to say no to drugs and alcohol.

It has become an enormous phenomenon, used in all 50 states at an estimated cost of more than $700 million a year.

But a growing body of evidence suggests that DARE is ineffective.

Dozens of studies, many of them sponsored by law-enforcement agencies, have shown that students who participated in DARE programs use drugs and alcohol just as much as those who did not. A Justice Department-funded study in 1993 said DARE has “a limited to essentially nonexistent effect” on drug and alcohol use.

In Michigan, state police have decided to stop running DARE programs in favor of a new approach called TEAM, or Teaching, Education, and Mentoring.

The switch stemmed from a 1998 survey in which troopers asked schools what they wanted from a police-education program. Educators wanted more about personal safety, obligations as citizens, and the penalties for certain crimes such as drinking and curfew violations. Unlike DARE, TEAM continues through the 12th grade.

“If you know right from wrong, you’re not going to use drugs” or alcohol, said Dave Verhougstraete, director of public information for the Michigan State Police.

Even though Michigan’s state police have abandoned DARE, most schools in the area still use the program, which in Michigan is now run through Michigan State University. In Ohio, the attorney general gave more than $3 million to law-enforcement agencies for DARE classes for the current school year.

Since Michigan State Police troopers stopped teaching DARE classes, the Madison School District outside Adrian pays a city police officer to continue the course.

“We think enough of it to pay for it ourselves,” superintendent Jim Hartley said. “As long as we have someone who is an effective teacher we will continue to have DARE. I could see if you had someone who couldn’t relate to the kids how it might not work.”

And other law-enforcement personnel say that the dozens of studies are just incorrect. “We will never give up on a good program, no matter what a few people would say,” said Chief Jornd of Ottawa Hills. “DARE has been and will continue to be the front line defense on juvenile drinking.”

Others agreed that DARE needs the support of other programs and efforts.

“You can’t teach a fifth grader certain skills and then not do anything after that and then expect them to use those skills years later,” said Jay Salvage, executive director of Lucas County’s Alcohol & Drug Addiction Services Board. “In sixth grade, those kids are pretty adamant about saying ‘no.’ But that wears off over time.”

Holding adults responsible

With DARE’s effectiveness on its own in question, area authorities are looking at other ways to combat teenage drinking.

Some police agencies and courts are holding adults more responsible in underage drinking incidents. The Ohio Highway Patrol is still investigating the Fulton County accident.

In Lenawee County, two parents were caught letting teens drink on their property. The couple said they thought it would be safer if the youths stayed in one place when they drank.

District Court Judge James Sheridan disagreed. He said there was no safe or legal drinking by teenagers and ordered the parents to write a letter detailing what they did and why it was wrong. That letter will be distributed to Onsted high school students for the next two years.

“Parents don’t think about these things. When they end up in my courtroom, suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a swell idea and certainly not as much fun as everyone was insisting it was going to be,” the judge said.

It’s illegal in Ohio and Michigan to provide alcohol to minors, even your children.

“You got a party with anywhere from 20 to 100 kids and one or two parents there. Are you seriously telling me that those parents have those kids 100 per cent under control?” he said.

Ottawa Hills has gone further than many other jurisdictions in trying to fight underage drinking. “We’re not running from burglary to street shooting to murder in Ottawa Hills; so we have time to investigate problems like this,” Chief Jornd said.

The village has a mandatory arrest policy for teens caught drinking, and it has established a diversion program to make arrested teens perform community service and go through an education program on alcohol abuse.

Ottawa Hills has a special program that allows parents leaving town to leave their house keys with the police department. The parents sign a form giving police permission to enter their house at any time they believe there might be underage drinking going on inside.

“Parents are able to tell their kids the cops are involved, and then the kids can tell their friends, ‘Hey, we’re pretty apt to get arrested if we do anything,'” Chief Jornd said.

Chief Jornd added that the owner of the Brittany Road home had given the police his keys in the past but had not last week when the 13 arrests were made.

One Ottawa Hills tradition – the senior sleepover in tents in someone’s backyard on the night before the first day of school – came under scrutiny in the mid-1990s as some students began to drink alcohol at the event and show up at school with hangovers the next day.

In 1995, two parents were cited in court for allowing the drinking to happen. Since then, the school board and the village council have passed resolutions asking parents to pledge they will not participate in the sleepovers.

An Ottawa Hills parents group called CHOICES, or Choosing Healthy Options is a Community Effort, was formed several years ago to combat underage drinking. The group helped convince village officials to hire a substance-abuse coordinator to work in Ottawa Hills schools.

“If anyone is going to stop this problem, it has to be the parents,” said Kathryn Royen, the group’s chair.

In the past, CHOICES has tried to educate parents and students on the consequences of drinking, and has even asked village parents to sign a pledge that they support keeping their children alcohol free.

Schools continue to do their part, often including lessons about underage drinking in their health curriculums. Others prevent athletes caught drinking from playing sports.

Many schools try to show students what it would be like to lose their friends to drinking with mock accidents and speakers who have been hurt or lost people to underage drinking and drunk driving.

Schools are bearing more of the task of teaching students lessons of underage drinking as more parents work longer hours, educators said, but it is not likely students will stop drinking from a few hours of instruction in school.

“We have too much responsibility in this,” Mr. Hartley said. “It’s not the issue in homes that it should be. Too many parents are too busy. Alcohol problems happen in every type of family. But they are less likely to happen in a family that knows where the child is and who their friends are.”

MADD losing volunteers

Since its formation in 1980, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has been one of the major forces fighting underage drinking and drunk driving. MADD helps victims of accidents and works to strengthen drinking laws. The national chapter amended its mission statement last year to include the prevention of underage drinking.

But as drunk-driving deaths have dropped, so has the number of MADD volunteers. As a result, some chapters have closed or are near closing.

The problem is not money: Corporate sponsorship of MADD is at an all-time high, said Judy Mead, the executive director of MADD Ohio. But there are not enough volunteers to use that money. Many women are working now and can’t dedicate themselves to the group full time, and other volunteers have left for other causes.

For example, the chapter in Putnam and Allen counties has only five active members, and they have had to carry the burden so long they are thinking of closing down. The group is meeting at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Vaughnsville United Methodist Church in Vaughnsville, O., for one last recruiting effort.

For the first time, in December, the chapter was not able to hold its annual candlelight vigil. Last month, the group canceled an annual banquet to honor police officers who stop drunken drivers. Work that it has done with victims and their families is threatened if the meeting tomorrow is unsuccessful.

“Everyone thinks MADD is there, it’s OK, and they don’t realize there’s a problem,” said Marilyn Miehls, the victim’s advocate for the Allen/Putnam County MADD chapter. “It has been such a good, strong force for all these years, it would be a shame to see it dwindle away.”

In Highland County in southern Ohio, the chapter has struggled with membership, at times coming close to disbanding.

“You get three or four people doing all the work, and it kind of gets overwhelming,” Paulette Hackathorne, the Highland County president, said. “I finally went around to friends and said, ‘You’re not going to have a MADD chapter unless people get involved.'”

If an area doesn’t have enough volunteers to have a full-fledged MADD chapter, it can have a community-action team instead. Community-action teams have their budgeting and the majority of their paperwork done by MADD’s state office.

Defiance and Williams counties started a MADD chapter in 1992, but they changed to a community-action team five years later.

Toledo’s MADD chapter disbanded in 1995 after feuding with the national headquarters over the spending of money on equipment. In 1998, Marcia Owens and Debbie Holmes started a community-action team.

Nationally, leaders said the key might be to recognize the need to involve entire families in the work.

The group has plans for a new elementary-school curriculum for first through fifth graders on alcohol. But without volunteers, the organization’s entire mission is threatened.

Ms. Holmes, of the Toledo chapter, said that while the group has gotten some able volunteers, some others are reluctant to join the cause.

“It’s sad because it’s such an important message,” she said. “You would think more people would get involved because it is drinking and driving.”

Teaching ‘social norming’

Perhaps the most promising new idea in fighting underage drinking comes from a small school in upstate New York and has its roots in sociological and psychological theory.

The central fact behind the idea, called social norming, is that young people, no matter their age, have a big misconception: They think that their peers are doing much worse things than they actually are.

And the more common students think drinking and drug use is, the more likely they are to do those things in an attempt to fit in.

“If only 35 per cent of college students are exhibiting high-risk drinking, those same students will think that 70 per cent are,” said Dr. Perkins, who developed the social norms method at tiny Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.

Dr. Perkins’ idea is simple: if you inform students that most people their age do not snort cocaine, shoot heroin, or get drunk every night, they’ll be more likely to avoid those behaviors.

“It’s a way of getting peer pressure to work for you instead of against you,” Dr. Perkins said.

Anguished media reports stating that underage drinking is a growing problem are part of the problem, he said, creating the perception that high-risk behavior is just part of being young.

“The facts are that alcohol use declines markedly in these age groups, starting in the mid-1980s, and deaths on the highway have come down markedly. Kids aren’t drinking more, and things are certainly not getting worse.”

The centerpiece of a social norms campaign is a coordinated effort to publicize the facts. From putting up posters to holding focus group sessions, counselors attempted to inform students that not drinking was normal.

Eighteen months after instituting the social norms method at Hobart and William Smith, students were surveyed again and asked about their alcohol habits. This time, the number of high-risk drinkers on campus dropped 21 per cent. Negative effects of drinking – from missing class and property damage to unprotected sex – dropped between 30 and 40 per cent.

While those numbers are self-reported, Dr. Perkins said evidence from residential counselors and others who see alcohol-related problems on campus convinces him the drop was real.

Dr. Perkins spends much of his time now speaking at conferences and trying to get other colleges and universities to use his method. Several have, including the University of Arizona and Western Washington University, both of which saw double-digit drops in high-risk drinking in only two years.

In northwest Ohio, Bowling Green State University has adopted a social norms approach and has had success with it.

Dr. Terry Renter, an assistant professor of journalism who has been studying student-drinking habits for eight years, said that over the last two years, high-risk drinking – defined as five or more drinks in a row – has dropped 2.5 per cent at BGSU, at a time when the national numbers have gone up more than 4 per cent.

Dr. Rentner said that the university’s program is about to expand into local high schools. Later this month, she will visit three local high schools – St. Francis de Sales in Toledo, Woodmore in Elmore, and Eastwood near Luckey – where she will implement the social norms program.

More than 20 other schools have expressed interest in the program, she said.

“Letting [high school] seniors know what to expect about college drinking can help an enormous amount in getting them ready,” Dr. Rentner said.

The work schools such as BGSU are doing has not gone unnoticed. Last week, BGSU, Hobart and William Smith, and five other colleges and universities were named model programs in alcohol abuse prevention by the U.S. Department of Education. Each school received a $74,000 grant to further their efforts. Four of the seven schools use the social norms approach.

But some educators, torn by deaths such as the ones in Fulton County, think that teenagers will only get the message about drinking when they are confronted with the damage it can do first hand.

The friends of Gary Walbolt, Jim Sustaita, and Joe Knapp will not soon forget what can come from underage drinking. Gary and Jim’s funerals were held Monday in the high school they had attended.

Gary had been with his friends all day the day he died. His mother, Pam, said she came home from work just in time for a 10-minute birthday visit before Gary darted out the door of his Delta home again to meet Jim.

Gary and Jim had been best friends for years. There was no question they would celebrate this milestone together. Jim’s dad, Wallace, knew that too, when his 18-year-old son said good-bye as he stepped off the porch that night.

“This had been in the works for awhile,” he said.

Friends and family are not sure where the teens spent that evening. Wherever they were, they had been drinking.

Late that night, Gary and Jim made their way to a friend’s house on the edge of nearby Swanton. At some point Joe joined them there. Police would later find that Joe had been drinking too and had a blood alcohol content of 0.31 – more than three times the legal driving limit.

An argument started between one of the young men and a woman who lives at the house, said Marissa Coale, a friend who lives nearby. The woman called 911, but by the time police arrived the teens had already driven off, back toward Delta with Jim behind the wheel.

Within minutes they would all be dead.

Amy Noel, a Bryan resident, was driving on State Rt. 2 toward Delta about 11:30 p.m., when a car came speeding up behind her at close to 100 miles per hour, trying to pass. Ms. Noel pulled over to let the car pass. She told troopers she saw the driver pass two more cars and nearly hit an oncoming vehicle before the car disappeared around a curve west of Swanton.

She thought the car had sped miles ahead, but when Ms. Noel rounded the curve, she saw something the community won’t soon forget. The car was turned over and wrapped around a utility pole. Its roof was crushed to the floor, with the young men trapped inside.

“This could happen somewhere else, and we’d read it in the paper or see it on TV and sit back and say, ‘That is really tragic,'” said Robin Rayfield, principal of Pike-Delta-York High School, which the three boys had attended. “Then we’d think, well, it doesn’t happen here. Well, now it did happen here. And our hearts were broken.”

Blade staff writer Brian Dugger contributed to this report.