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Veterans see Obama's visit to Hiroshima as 'bittersweet'

By GREGG ZOROYA | USA Today (Tribune News Service) | Published: May 28, 2016

America's largest veterans groups took a restrained view of President Obama's historic visit Friday to Hiroshima, where he called for an end to nuclear weapons like the U.S. bomb that destroyed the Japanese city in 1945.

Organizations representing millions of veterans, including a dwindling number from World War II, offered little or no reaction. Leaders watched closely to make sure the White House held to a promise that Obama would not apologize for the U.S. decision to drop an atomic bomb on the city.

The Obama administration had primed the groups for the president's visits to both Vietnam and Hiroshima by inviting representatives to the White House to meet with national security adviser Susan Rice and assuring them that there would be no apologies.

Some veterans had voiced opposition to Obama's visit because Japan has never apologized for the brutal treatment of American prisoners during World War II.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the 1.2-million member Veterans of Foreign Wars, released a muted reaction to Obama's wreath-laying and remarks, saying only that "a world without conflict is a vision we should all share."

Garry Augustine, executive director of the Washington, D.C., office for Disabled American Veterans, which has 1.3 million members, said he thought the speech by Obama "went well."

"It is part of the diplomacy of America to reach out, and I think this is just part of this administration reaching out to the world to continue to move forward," Augustine said.

The largest veterans group, the American Legion, which has 2.2 million members, offered no comment Friday. But Rhonda Powell, the group's national security director, told Japanese media last week that the Legion neither supported nor opposed Obama's visit.

"We definitely support his decision to not apologize because we truly feel like it would dishonor those who sacrificed," Powell told NHK-TV.

Sherman Gillums Jr., a Marine veteran and executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, described Obama's visits to Vietnam and Hiroshima as "bittersweet for many, particularly ahead of Memorial Day."

"Many servicemembers died decades ago in those very places, and there are many veterans today that still haven't seen the end of those wars in their minds," Gillums said. "I hope that President Obama, and all world leaders for that matter, come to better appreciate the sacrifices many have made by coming as close to 'walking in their boots' as one can when visiting these foreign lands where our nation's defenders once fought and died."

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