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Americans not part of US Army Die Fighting Islamic State, return Home to Military-type Honors

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WILLIAM SAVAGE Picture Credits: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter presented flags Friday to the families of two men who never joined the U.S. military – but died fighting the Islamic State group in Syria – after their bodies returned to Colorado on Friday.

The caskets of Levi Shirley, 24, Jordan MacTaggart, 22, along with that of William Savage, 27, arrived Wednesday at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after a complicated journey back to the U.S. without ceremony.

From there, Shirley and MacTaggart arrived by train in Denver, while Savage was being transported to North Carolina, where his father lives.

In Denver, the bodies were delivered to their sobbing loved ones in plain, gray caskets. A team of pallbearers unloaded the caskets from an Amtrak train and lifted them into hearses as sleepy passengers watched curiously.

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“Though they did not fight as members of our armed forces, they are Americans and as Americans we have a responsibility to bring these young men home and to give the families relief and closure,” Perlmutter said in a statement.

The men died separately in combat after joining the People’s Protection Units, the main Kurdish guerrilla group battling the Islamic State in Syria.

Turkey’s tense relationship with the Kurds and the U.S. since July’s failed coup stalled efforts to bring the men home.

The remains of Keith Broomfield of Massachusetts, believed to be the first American to die alongside Kurds fighting Islamic State, were returned to the U.S. through Turkey last year in 2015.

But Kurdish groups determined it would be too dangerous to repatriate the bodies of Shirley, MacTaggart and Savage through Turkey and instead shipped them hundreds of miles east to Iraq. The bodies were then flown to Amman, Jordan, and on to Chicago.

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Susan Shirley said she worked with the State Department to bring her son’s body home, and her friends contacted Perlmutter to help navigate the frustrating terrain. He enlisted aid from people at the White House.

“It took extraordinary measures by many people to get these men from Syria to the U.S., especially given the ever-changing and dangerous geopolitical dynamics in the Middle East,” Perlmutter said. “It seems we are in the final stages of this long and sad situation.”

Susan Shirley said her son was in Syria “as an American to protect Americans.”

But unlike fallen members of the armed forces, the young men had no military escorts to accompany their caskets and no 21-gun salute.

Still, Susan Shirley said she appreciated the homecoming for her son and extended her condolences to families that have lost military members in action.

“You can do all the pomp and circumstance you want, but those families aren’t getting their sons back, either,” Shirley said.

Veterans groups said they had no problems with the honors planned for the three men.

“They went to fight for the right side,” said Joe Davis, spokesman for the national Veterans of Foreign Wars. “You can’t fault a state for honoring their own.”

Shirley, of Arvada, Colorado, was killed by a land mine July 14. MacTaggart, of Castle Rock, Colorado, died Aug. 3 while fighting in a squad that included two Americans and a Swede in Manbij, Syria.

Savage, of St. Mary’s County, Maryland, also died in Manbij on Aug. 10. (VOA)

  • Manthra koliyer

    May their souls rest in peace!

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American Medical Association Urges Americans to Stop Using Electronic Cigarettes of Any Sort

The recommendation followed advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday for people

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American, Medical, Electronic Cigarettes
A man uses a vape as he walks on Broadway in New York City, September 9, 2019. VOA

The American Medical Association on Monday urged Americans to stop using electronic cigarettes of any sort until scientists have a better handle on the cause of 450 lung illnesses and at least five deaths related to the use of the products.

The AMA, one of the nation’s most influential physician groups, also called on doctors to inform patients about the dangers of e-cigarettes, including toxins and carcinogens, and swiftly report any suspected cases of lung illness associated with e-cigarette use to their state or local health department.

The recommendation followed advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday for people to consider not using e-cigarette products while it investigates the cause of the spate of severe lung illnesses associated with vaping.

Many, but not all, of the cases have involved those who used the devices to vaporize oils containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis.

American, Medical, Electronic Cigarettes
The American Medical Association on Monday urged Americans to stop using electronic cigarettes of any sort until scientists have a better handle on the cause of 450 lung illnesses. Pixabay

CDC officials said some laboratories have identified vitamin E acetate in product samples and are investigating that as a possible cause of the illnesses.

Public health experts have not found any evidence of infectious diseases and believe the lung illnesses are probably associated with a chemical exposure.

Megan Constantino, 36, from St. Petersburg, Florida, quit vaping six days ago after hearing reports of the illnesses and deaths related to vaping.

“It scared me into quitting,” she said.

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Like many users of vaping pens, Constantino picked up the device after quitting cigarette smoking three years ago, and said, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

She added, “I threw the last cartridge away. I took a picture of it and I literally cried.”

Constantino said many people who vape have been “on pins and needles” for the investigation results, and she is concerned that the reports of a link to vaping THC may give people an excuse to ignore the warnings.

E-cigarettes are generally thought to be safer than traditional cigarettes, which kill up to half of all lifetime users, the World Health Organization says. But the long-term health effects of vaping are largely unknown.

American, Medical, Electronic Cigarettes
The AMA, one of the nation’s most influential physician groups, also called on doctors to inform patients about the dangers of e-cigarettes, including toxins and carcinogens. Pixabay

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has faced mounting pressure to curb a huge spike in teenage use of e-cigarettes, a trend that coincided with the rising popularity of Juul e-cigarettes.

“We must not stand by while e-cigarettes continue to go unregulated. We urge the FDA to speed up the regulation of e-cigarettes and remove all unregulated products from the market,” AMA president Dr. Patrice Harris, said in a statement.

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, which advocates for cigarette smokers to switch to nicotine-based vaping devices, said the AMA should be “ashamed of themselves for playing politics with people’s health and protecting the profits of drug dealers.”

He criticized the AMA for “fearmongering about nicotine vaping products” while not mentioning “the very real risks of vaping illicit THC products.”

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Juul Labs declined to comment. Altria Group Inc owns a 35 percent stake in Juul. (VOA)