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U.S. Soldiers Ambushed in Macedonia, Beaten by Serb Captors

By Gerry J. Gilmore
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 11, 1999 – The three U.S. soldiers recently released by the Serbs have confirmed they were ambushed and captured March 31 inside Macedonia, not Yugoslavia.

The 1st Infantry Division soldiers also told U.S. officials they were routinely beaten by their Serb jailers as they were moved several times during their 32-day captivity in Yugoslavia, said Maj. Gen. David L. Grange, division commander. Grange, in Heidelberg, Germany, conducted a telephonic press conference May 7 with Pentagon news correspondents.

The former prisoners of war, Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25; Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24; and Spc. Steven M. Gonzales, 21; are members of B Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany.

Grange said the soldiers, driving on a NATO observation patrol, were on the lookout for possible Serb military incursions into Macedonia. The three came under fire from 15 to 20 Serbs in military uniform, were surrounded and captured. The Americans, Grange said, had been operating under accepted U.S. military policy.

The soldiers told U.S. officials their vehicle was hit by 40 to 50 Serb rounds, Grange said. Rocky terrain limited vehicle speed to 12 mph, he said. Surrounded and outnumbered, with no hope of rescue, though they'd had time to radio for help, Stone decided to surrender without returning fire, Grange said.

The American soldiers said they were then hooded, tied up, placed on the floor of a Serb truck and driven over the border into Yugoslavia, the general said. All evidence says they were captured inside Macedonia.

"If you recall from the radio transmissions, they gave three [grid] coordinates," Grange said. Those coordinates matched the area of capture according to investigations made before the soldiers' release and information gathered during their debriefing in Germany, he said.

Grange said the U.S. soldiers were "knocked down and beaten" when captured. The soldiers said similar rough treatment -- being hit in the face, ribs and legs, and choked with batons -- continued throughout their captivity in Yugoslavia. Grange said he believed such abuse against the U.S. soldiers was against the Geneva Conventions.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson headed a U.S. religious delegation that secured the soldiers' release May 2. After traveling overland from Belgrade into Croatia, they flew to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Stone, Ramirez and Gonzales were then taken to a U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, for rest and recuperation. The three have now recovered enough to take some leave, Grange said.

Grange said he was grateful for Jackson's role in gaining the soldiers' release. "[Jackson] had told me it was a 'tough sell,' but that he would be successful - and he was," Grange said.

[Gerry J. Gilmore is an Army News Service reporter.]

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