William Cox

I said I never saw a soldier cower in combat (didn't use that word), and that's true. I didn't. I did see soldiers wrestle with death, grasp it and glare it dead in the eye prior to making a move. This blank look seemed to enfold the total of a soldier's being, all his life, his death, and all his love and hate and fortune in an instant of pure cognition. It was real on my battlefields.

Some imagine the stare was immobilizing, debilitating, but that's not my recall. It was more like a breath of clean air in the thick smoke of battle, an instant of respite when total acceptance of the horror of it all was accomplished, enabling a soldier to breathe deep and go ahead. I think that's what happened to you on that hill with that grenade. In that moment you grasped and accepted the immense horror of it all, and then, when that moment passed, you went ahead. I congratulate you, sir! That's soldiering in it's highest form, I think.



William Cox

I agree that the feelings you carry inside about the booby trap event (shock, grief, fear), which often gets triggered in the company of other Nam vets, won't ever go away, but I can't predict that as good or bad thing for you. I think as your therapy (life) progresses, those feelings will change, and so will your responses to triggers of those feelings.

I believe (don't know) that the feelings you have about that event are probably most damaging to you when they're left in the shock stage--which is to say that this indicates to me (I may be wrong) that you haven't fully "processed" the event in recall in such a way as to get past the intensity of the feelings you have about what happened to a place in your heart where you can "accept" what happened, make your peace with the events and the losses involved, and move on with your therapy, with your life. Sounds impossible doesn't it, almost like cheating?

One way some have achieved this is by selectively and purposely viewing the traumatic events not only as personal experiences in one's life, but in the larger context of the war itself, and then within the chronological flow of events in the particular engagement down to squad level. The result of such non-emotive (numb) analysis is usually something like A + B = C. In other words, given the same situation with the same elements, the same or similar results will probably occur. If you can see the events in that cold clear light for just a few monumental moments, it might reduce the huge burden of guilt on the young soldier part of you who remembers it all. I hope so. I know when that screen opens up in your mind and the images fix you in the Jungle and the sounds and smells flow through you, you're gonna feel something. That's the PTSD. That's your humanity.

When it doesn't hurt anymore because you've stoved it up and WON'T let it out, that's the PTSD. When it busts your guts and tears stream, dry and invisible and so salty you can't see or feel past the unheard, silent sobs in your soul--that's the PTSD.

And when you've accomplished the therapy and it really, actually doesn't seem to hurt so badly or so pervasively anymore because you're able to understand the events in their proper context, and you realize how much you're changed by this understanding--it'll still be the PTSD.

It won't go away, no. But it'll change just as surely as you, yourself, are changing, my friend. Bless you for your courage and for your strong desire to find the peace you so richly deserve.




William Cox

What we tolerate or don't is a whole mix of cultural, social, experiential decisions we do or don't make. If we make a decision, I think it's important we cover the ground we stand on by acting on it, testing it, learning from it and with it, even to the point of changing our minds when warranted by experience, by the testing, learning, and living we give to decisions we make.

I think if they're gonna judge you for judging them then they're not fit to judge you. Complicating this is the first rule of judgment, which is you gotta make a judgment. So if someone says judging isn't right, well, that's a judgment; which is what you gotta do when you judge, which is what we're doing, ain't it?

I hope that's clear enough for judges and theologians and old hippies alike, but I'm sure they'll tell me I'm wrong.



Goal Oriented Thinking

William Cox

Your expressed firmness in your beliefs/convictions about these matters has increased my faith that you've considered these events and decisions well. That's a good sign in itself. Again, I trust with you that it will be well.

What I meant by goal oriented thinking was thinking in terms of desired results rather than the actualities and real potentials of outcomes. As this relates to rationalizations and responses to them like change of focus, once one has committed to a plan of action, it's important to guard against rationalizations which support the plan but deny an apparent and changing reality. If, in the clinch, one continues to execute a plan which has already failed because of opposition, it may be said one's focus has changed from actual reality to execution of the plan. This is goal oriented thinking in the extreme. It can facilitate the highest achievement or the most destructive consequence. In most cases of emotional and rational conflict, though, I think goal oriented thinking can't compete with a tight focus on realities at hand; facilitating what's good, what's best all 'round, what will work and be satisfactory and desirable--to the extent possible.


The WHY Part . . .

William Cox

Why is a big question, but I understand the nagging of it. You have an MS so I'm sure as you move further into the therapy you'll end up doing a lot of personal research to find your answers. My answers about why are my own opinions, based on my experience and research, and should be taken as such. You asked, " . . . why can't I keep employed, sleep, make friends or even keep friends, why do I want to be alone but can't take the loneliness?" Here is my response, based on the information you gave, basically, that you have PTSD after a military career. I'm assuming your PTSD developed as a result of combat trauma.

Intense and prolonged combat trauma causes some psychological adaptations and some physical adaptations. On the physical side, once the body is fed a steady flow of adrenalin over long periods of time as a result of life-or-death struggle for survival, the body remembers these routines (operant conditioning) and sometimes demands endocrine output, afterwards, at inappropriate times, when there is anxiety, perhaps, or extreme stress--but no real danger to survival. These changes are chemical.

On the psychological side, some more operant conditioning comes into play. On the battlefield, emotional responses, other than controlled, active, and deadly anger, could not only get you killed, but could get your buddies, or those you were responsible for, killed. If you were a combat leader, you probably learned to make inane jokes to keep up the face of good humor, but there was no joy in it, no bona fide emotion . . . it was really just more of the irony of war. Your psychological adaptations in combat, the emotional numbing, the hyper-alertness and hyper-arousal, the unconscious triggered responses to danger or threat of danger, even the anxiety ridden sleeplessness, may have kept you and maybe others alive. Therefore, unconsciously, and without any real intent on your part, these adaptations became a part of your way of perceiving and "dealing with" the world.

Inside you, unconsciously, there is a need for emotional resolutions, hence the nightmares and intrusive thoughts, times when, in ways beyond your control, your psyche attempts to force you to "get through" the things that bother you still, at deep unconscious levels. Therapy aims to bring these things to the surface so you can deal with them with more conscious and healthy control.

The problem arises when you find yourself no longer in combat, but being driven by combat impulses, combat survival chemicals under duress, and also when you discover that you're not in touch with your emotional self at all. You don't seem to feel things very much, unless it's bad, and you have the ability to turn that off, too.

Survivor's guilt is a term you'll become familiar with in PTSD therapy. It takes a lot of heat for such things as your leaving job after job. It's called self-defeating behavior, and according to the theory, you'll continue to defeat yourself in your important goals until you forgive yourself for not dying with your buddies, or for not doing enough, not being hero enough, etc.

In general, people with PTSD often feel so alienated from "normal" people and "things" by their combat experiences that they find it hard to establish and maintain meaningful relationships, and have a hard time fitting into most normal social situations, often believing that if they were direct and honest about what they thought or felt, people would reject them, or ought to reject them.

These are rational responses only, friend, and fall short in terms of the philosophical WHY? Or the Spiritual WHY? Those questions need to be addressed too, in your therapeutic journey, I think. After twenty plus years of off-and-on therapy for PTSD, I still have not adequately addressed those aspects of the why question adequately for myself. Priorities, priorities. First things first, I guess.



William Cox []

It was nearly sundown when I watched a five-year-old Vietnamese peasant girl run out into her rice paddy in the rain screaming bloody murder at an old water buffalo that wondered into the paddy. I'd shared my LRRP rations with her, and was surprised when she asked (motioned for) a cigarette. I got a nod from mammasan to give her one, which she commenced to smoke, running the smoke from her mouth up her nose and blowing it out both corners of her mouth simultaneously like a practiced barfly might. I mean this was a teacup little girl too!

Anyhow, she dons her cone hat and takes off for the paddy at a dead run, screaming and waiving her arms at the buffalo, and when she gets to the dumbfounded buffalo she starts beating it frantically on the side with both fists, screaming all the while. The buffalo looks around at her a few times but keeps grazing. Finally did lose patience with her and ambled off, right out of the paddy, making a loud grunt of protest as it mounted the earth about a foot above the paddy surface.

I'll always remember that scene, being in that hut (a stupid place for me to be) with mammasan and girlsan, sharing those moments in that valley in that hut with local jungle people. We were there to search the huts and vicinity, and it had rained, and I called a break right there. I was the only one dumb enough to go to the hootch out of the rain. Not long afterwards we found food packets placed on the trail for the enemy nearby, and we burned those hootches and airlifted the 6-8 villagers out for interrogation, relocation.

We didn't shoot the buffalo, but we did kill a couple chickens once. We did shoot the local Vietnamese if they fled from us on contact. We'd shout dun lai first, and then fire warning shots, and then we'd kill them if they were still running. Three women, I think, were killed in this manner. In fact, the first dead person I saw in Nam was a woman, maybe 35, laying on the side of the trail as I walked by, gutshot with a burst and very bloody. She'd run from our point element and refused to stop. She had on black pajamas, was alone, and had no items in her possession. She was not dressed like the locals. It turned my stomach that all we really knew about her was that she was scared of us. This was not a common occurance with the unit.

No children ever threatened us, and the only child I know of that we ever harmed was a baby (presumably--it could have been the enemy who killed this infant) shot through the neck and killed during an engagement with a village which fired on us. I blew the village up. An old Vietnamese woman, the only one in the village when the fighting ended, was shot in the arm and treated by my medic and released. This was one of my first engagements. I do know that baby wasn't killed by artillery, and that I feld very badly about it afterwards. We'd probably only received about 30-60 rounds when my arty call hit target. The thing was, we were in the open (I know being in the open is stupid--I had orders) on a well traveled paddy dike 150 meters out, so I took out all threat from the village, the point of the attack on us, before proceeding. The fire mission response was immediate, one adjustment, and the village (two huts, I think, maybe three) was history. I remember hitting the mud of the paddy dike when they opened up, getting my RTO up to my position, calling Redleg, and hearing and seeing the ville blow up just after AK rounds started hitting the dike again near me and James, my RTO. It went real quick. Under a minute. What were we talking about? Buffalo?

I saw buffalo on several occasions. Never killed any, though.


In the mud . . .

William Cox

This photo was taken of nineteen-year-old Infantry Officer Candidate Cox during the week-long Ranger training all infantry officer candidates had to successfully complete at OCS. I'd just swum the river, with my gear, in full fatigue dress, with combat boots on. It was difficult and challenging, but we made it--nearly all of us. There's a trick to it, and without knowledge of the trick, some of us probably would have drowned before we'd reached half-way across the river. I know you'd probably like to know the trick. I shouldn't tell you because it's a Ranger secret, but I'm gonna tell you: The secret is guts--the will to complete the assigned task, no matter how difficult or seemingly impossible.

The guts and stamina required to swim that cold river in full dress under a time-limit carrying 20 lbs of gear is likely unimaginable to anyone who hasn't done it. Any of us, at any time, could have called for help and been rescued by real Rangers in boats. A very few did. They were given their walking papers, and some of them had orders to Vietnam as Sergeants of Infantry within days. Most of the rest of us who completed all the training successfully were sent to Vietnam as Lieutenants of Infantry.

Those of us who were graduated as lieutenants of infantry shortly after completing the Ranger phase of Infantry OCS at Fort Benning weren't better soldiers than the newly appointed sergeants who couldn't make it through Ranger Week, and I don't think it's true across-the-board that we had more guts, either. What is true is we proved we had the will to complete the assigned missions, where they had failed results.

In combat the infantry sergeant has the right and responsibility, the obligation really, to sometimes say, "I can't do that, Sir. That'll get somebody, probably me, killed!" In that situation, the lieutenant can choose to press, ordering compliance with the order, or he can change the plan to accommodate suggestions from subordinate leaders, who then assume prominent rolls in executing the plan. But if it's a good plan the lieutenant believes the unit can execute if properly led, he can simply say, “I'll take the lead, then. Follow me.”

The converse of that is when the lieutenant finds himself in the same situation—facing orders that amount to suicide for his lead element. Once he's expressed that belief about an assignment to his superior officer, and failed to change his superior's mind about alternate ways and means to accomplish the mission, he must go to his sergeants and issue the order--no matter how difficult, no matter how risky or deadly--the order will be carried out! That's why so many young lieutenants and sergeants of infantry get killed in combat.

Lieutenants and sergeants of Infantry must have the will to do and lead in the assigned tasks, no matter the cost. Without that willingness, wars cannot be fought or won. While serving in the army, I took my job as a sacred trust. In combat I did what I had to do, what I was able to do, and men died. The memory of them shall not rest in me so long as I draw breath. It was a great privilege and honor and an awesome responsibility and obligation to serve my country voluntarily as a combat infantryman. My pride in having served as a combat leader and infantry officer in Vietnam before I was old enough to vote is tempered by recall of our losses during the period, among them some of the finest men I've ever known.

Though I have been steeled by the fire, I cannot but recall the melting down, and every shaping blow of the forger's hammer!

Vietnam War Interview

On The War In Vietnam, for writing 101 class at URI
Jay Brothers[jbro7486postoffice.uri.edu
Tue Apr 25
Do you feel that the Vietnam war was a worthwhile experience? I know that we were fighting to free the Vietnamese from the strongholds of communism, but do you think we could have done it without waging war? What are your personal feelings about your experiences in Vietnam? I personally am against war alltogether, I was wondering if you might now feel the same way after experiencing the tragedies that can occur in the battle field? I believe your efforts were in good faith, for our country, but do you know what we were really fighting for, and do you think we ended up with the results we expected? As experienced veterans, what do you believe are justifyable means for going to war?

Re: War in Vietnam, for writing 101 class at URI

William Cox
Wed Apr 26

Jay . . . Good luck with your writing project. My answers to your questions are below, following each question. For more information about my Vietnam experience, you can go to my Web page at: www.williamcox.org

Best regards,

William Cox
Captain, Infantry

On Tue Apr 25, Jay Brothers[jbro7486postoffice.uri.edu wrote

>Do you feel that the Vietnam war was a worthwhile experience?

The most powerful experiences of my youth, my whole life, really, are in the jungles of Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. Like most combat soldiers, I think, it's taken me most of my life, since then, to come to terms with much of what happened. Worhtwhile? Yes, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. What I learned in combat about the resilience and magnificence of the human spirt could not have been learned by me in any other way, I don't think. Some lessons weren't so uplifting, however, and those are the ones that have taken me a lifetime to obsorb and sort out. I probably will never understand half of what I know because of my combat experiences.

>I know that we were fighting to free the Vietnamese from the strongholds of communism, but do you think we could have done it without waging war?

No, when somebody punches you in the mouth, you have an instantaneous choice to either fight back . . . or let them win. This isn't usually a moral choice in-the-moment, but a choice involving courage or it's opposite--simple cowardice. Had we failed to engage the communists in active war, they'd have rolled over Vietnam in 66 instead of 75. The fact we let them win is something I've never understood.

>What are your personal feelings about your experiences in Vietnam?

As stated above, I wouldn't trade my personal experience of the war for anything. I can't explain to you why that is. I should be able to explain it, but so far, I can't.

>I personally am against war alltogether, I was wondering if you might now feel the same way after experiencing the tragedies that can occur in the battle field?

Yes, I understand your feeling that war is a terrible thing to be avoided whenever possible. But this is an idealistic view which leads to some pragmatic difficulties whenever a major threat to the safety and well being of a whole nation emerges, as continues to happen throughout the globe, for one reason or another. You can play peace advocate all you want . . . until somebody comes to your home, rapes your wife, kills your dog, steals your car and your children, burns your house, and promises to return for you soon. At that point your peacenic attitudes turn to drivel, and you become a fighting man--or you are no man at all!

>I believe your efforts were in good faith, for our country, but do you know what we were really fighting for, and do you think we ended up with the results we expected?

These questions assume I agree with your conclusions about Vietnam. I don't. The fact the American People were duped by enemy propaganda into giving up the struggle for South Vietnam's independance in no way means that what I and my unit did in combat was wrongminded or useless. I always knew what we were fighting for, yes.

>As experienced veterans, what do you believe are justifyable means for going to war?

What justifies going to war? All soldiers take an oath to serve, protect, and defend. That's a soldier's job. Ideally, a soldier does this because of what he believes is right, and he lives, or dies, serving that oath and the commanders appointed over him, to the best of his ability. Soldiers don't make wars. Politicians do. Soldiers fight because they're under orders to do so. Soldiers aren't usually called upon to justify the wars they fight in. They just do the fighting, whenever, wherever they're told to do it. All the justification a soldier needs is contained in their verbal or written orders to engage and defeat their nation's enemies.

Re: Vietnam War Letter assignment..HELP!!!Vietnam War Interview Forum

Re: Vietnam War Letter assignment..HELP!!!
William Cox

On Tue May 18, Sara wrote
>Hi..my name is Sara, and I'm a 16 yr old that desperately needs some info. on a project for my History class. I am supposed to write a VIETNAM WAR LETTER (DUE: FRIDAY, MAY 20), pretending that I am a US soldier in Vietnam writing a letter to any relative or friend. In the letter I must describe the war and my opinion as to whether the US should be involved in the war. I would REALLY Appreciate it if any of you would PLEASE E-mail me(preferably) or reply to this post answering the following questions (or any other valuable info that may be useful to me:--Hi Sara. Friday is the 21st, so you've got 2 more days. Here are my answers. Good luck with your "letter."

>1. What is your name, age when you were in the war, and where abouts you were fighting in Vietnam?--William Cox, 20, fighting in Quang Tin Province, 20 miles West of Tam Ky and 9 miles South of Tien Phuoc, in I Corps, Americal Division Oregan Area of Operations (AO).

>2. Where there any "good" or "bad" things in partucular that you remember about being in the war?--Good was a break from the combat routines in the jungle when we had a few days on security at the Forward Firebases, either LZ Bowman or LZ Professional. At the firebases the only contact we had when I was there was the occasional mortar attack, 4 to 12 rounds. Bad was anytime we had casualties. It was also "bad" not to be able to bathe or have a change of clothes for weeks at at time. The jungle makes a body get itchy. I'm still scratchin' thirty years later.

>3. Describe the terrain, the nature of warfare, your army unit, etc.--My unit was Company A, 1st Battalion, 52d Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. The terrain where we fought was lush green jungle mountains, with river valleys, trails as primary routes of travel through the jungle, and rice paddies at the edges of populated areas, usually from 3 to 8 straw/bamboo/mud huts, sometimes with a central pagoda and some storage huts. Our war was unconventional in all aspects except one--comes down to kill or be killed. My unit (company) had about 120 people when I arrived, and in the last battle I was in, went from 104 down to 38 (one third of these 38 were "walking wounded") in a two week period. During Tet69 we went to the field (from security duty on Firebase Professional) for a 12 day reconnaissance operation, and were unable to get back in. At the time I was wounded we'd been in the jungle for 22 days. This type of "adjust mission as necessary to complete objective" was commonplace. Nothing was written in stone, no textbook solutions existed in Vietnam. For infantrymen in my unit, it often came down to "do or die," and the second option was more often a possibility than any of us were comfortable with. My Battalion Commander, a Lieutenant Colonel and graduate of West Point, was killed in action three days before I was wounded (bringing us ammo and picking up our dead in his helicopter), so it wasn't as though the higher ups were insensitive to our situation, or didn't care about us and the dangers we faced.

>4. At the time, why did you suppose the US is involved in the war and did you agree or disagree with the reasons for involvment?--I thought the reason we were fighting was because the Vietnamese officials asked us to help, and our people in power thought we should, so we did. For us infantrymen, it didn't matter what we thought we were fighting for when we arrived "in country," by the time we got our "combat legs," we knew we were really fighting for each other, the US soldier on our right and left, and behind and in front of us. That's what it came down to for all of us.

>5. And finally, as part of my project I am supposed to seal this letter in an envelope, and put an address and hand drawn postmark on it. And, of course, it has to have a return address from somwhere in Vietnam. Do you have any ideas as to what fake return address I could put on the envelope? What about the postmark??--Here's the return address I put on all my mail: LT William Cox, Co A, 1/52d Inf, 198th LIB, Americal Division, APO San Franciso 96374. All mail going to soldiers in Vietnam had an "APO San Franciso" address. We were told to write FREE in the upper right corner, and some people drew postmarks, peace symbols, unit crests or insignia, or doodles of their choosing.

>If you can't answer ALL of the questions or choose not to answer some, I'm perfectly fine with that, but if you have ANY info AT ALL about even just *ONE QUESTION* I would TRULY appreciate your response!! Please E-mail me at: Gigglez127@aol.com, and also, I must recieve all responses BEFORE *Friday, May 20* THANKYOU!!!!!
[ This message was edited on Wed May 19 by the author ]

Wed May 19
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Vietnam War Interview Forum

Re: Please answer these eleven questions about yourself and the Vietnam War!
William Cox

Rosie . . . Good luck with your project about the Vietnam war and its veterans. My responses follow your questions below.
William Cox

On Sat Apr 22, Rosie wrote
>Thank you for taking the time to answer a fourteen year old's questions about the Vietnam War.

>1. How did you get involved in the Vietnam War?

I enlisted in the army when I graduated high school at 17, and volunteered to serve with the airborne infantry. I'd believed in the war from the time I saw the picture of the immolated buddhist priest on the cover of LIFE Magazine. My dad was a career navy man, and so I believed in the rightness of military service. I also wantedto prove myself to my dad,who was a hard taskmaster.
>2. How were you affected by the war?

I receive 100% service-connected, total and permanent disability compensation from the United States for two gunshot wounds received in combat, and for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which is an emotional disorder related to my traumatic wounding.

>3. What did you do during the war?

In combat in Vietnam, I was an infantry platoon leader, weapons platoon, and then third rifle platoon, Company A, 1/52d Infantry, from Dec 68 until I was wounded in Mar 69. We did reconnaisance, ambushes, ground combat assaults, air combat assaults, search & destroy, and search & sieze operations.

>4. Explain.

My battalion's area of operations was about 11 miles west and south of the unprotected coastal area of South Vietnam known then, and today, as Tam Ky. At that time Tam Ky was a part of Quang Tin Province, and we operated from our battalion firebases at LZs Bowman, Professional, and Young in direct support of Tam Ky and the Special Forces Camp at Tien Phuoc located about 11 miles West of Tam Ky and about 3 miles South, which organized and trained local civilian and military resistance forces to protect Tien Phuoc and Tam Ky from the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) regulars who made regular raids on the Vietnames populace, as well as on us. It wAS the MISSION of the 1/52d inf to find and kill or capture the NVA in our part of Quang Tin Province.

>5. What will you always remember about the Vietnam War?

The dead and dying, the smell and feel of blood on the battlefield, the sounds of it, the smell of gunpowder and broken earth, the stillness of the jungle at night, the sound of incoming automatic weapons fire and mortars and the explosions, especially at night; the sound of the enemy moving around a hasty defensive perimiter at night and the crescendos of automatic weapons gunfire as the attack takes full force, and the tapering off as the sounds of the wounded drift out through the smoky jungle. I remember that I believed in, and was highly committed to, what I was doing at the time.

>6. Why?

It was my nature as a young man to check things out, make my own decisions. I'd was an impressionable and earnest Boy Scout: They taught me that: "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country . . ." In the army I learned at OCS to aim high and strive hard toward something believed in with all my spirit, mind, and soul (body). I believed it was right to help the Vietnamese. There were solid strategic and humanitaran, economic, political, and military reasons supporting of my belief, We tried our best, and we won on our battlefields.

>7. Did you agree with the war, or protest it?

An the individual level, I knew the war was or ought to be a matter of individual moral conscience. I recognized that my country was strongly divided about it. At the time, I felt my decision over this critical issue would serve me in some important and central way for the rest of my life. It has--though not as expected.

>8. Why?

I had ample time in over two years of intensive infantry training in the army, going from private soldier to second lieutenant of infantry, to dissect and analyse all my reasons for being an infantry soldier and volunteering to fight in Vietnam. I believed my country had reposed a great trust in me, and in all those with whom I served--that of protecting and defending a people who'd asked for our help in defeating a murderous communist threat in their midst. I saw first-hand the effects of NVA and Viet Cong excursions into the small rural populated areas of the Quang Tin jungle we operated in. I still believe I was right to make the choice I did--right for me.

>9. How did the war affect the people that you love(d)?

They never talked about it much.

>10.Were you, or someone you know, drafted?

Some few I knew were drafted, and I felt very sorry for them for having to serve against their will.


If I'd been forced to fight in Vietnam against my will, and saw and endured what I did, I think I'd have come away from that experience with a dangerous mistrust and resentment of all government. Killing is a horrible thing. To make someone do it is unconscionable.

>Thank you

Your welcome Rosie.

>I would apreciate it if I got the answers to these questions before Wednesday, April 26, 2000.

>Thanks again.