From: "Bruce K. Melson" <>


August 30, 2000

PORT ARTHUR -- Nine young people must watch "Saving Private Ryan" and read "The Greatest Generation" after pleading guilty to vandalizing a veterans park.

District Judge Charles Carver also ordered the nine to write 1,000-word essays due Dec. 7, the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The punishment was handed down Monday as part of a plea bargain worked out in cooperation with local veterans.

Carver said he hoped the teens ultimately would learn about "the sacrifices of American soldiers in defense of your freedom."

They could have received a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail.

"We didn't want to destroy these kids' lives by sending them to the penitentiary. We wanted to show them we are a compassionate generation, too," said Herb Stafford, a Veterans of Foreign Wars post commander.

More than $45,000 in damage was done to Golden Triangle Veterans Memorial Park during February, including the removal of plaques carrying the names of veterans who served during World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.

Eleven of 14 concrete benches in the park were toppled, and a pane of glass in the top of a fighter jet cockpit was shattered. A window was broken in a helicopter, and its door was torn off and stolen.

Most of the damage has been repaired.

Pleading guilty in July to criminal mischief charges were Seth James Hanson, Brian Andrew Rogers, Robin Lee Middlebrooks, Brendi Olene Barnes, Brad Edward Wiegand, Curt Alan Lucia and Eric Ridley, all 18 years old; Justin Ridley Cruse, 17; and Mark Adam Segura, 19.

Carver, who told the nine that veterans are not "just a bunch of old people," also ordered them to serve two years' probation, apologize to veterans who helped build the memorial 10 years ago, pay a $500 fine and perform 400 hours of community service.

Violation of probation could result in jail time.

"The Greatest Generation," is Tom Brokaw's book about the generation of Americans that dealt with World War II. "Saving Private Ryan," the blockbuster movie about the war, opens with the brutally realistic storming of Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Two other young people, ages 15 and 16, were prosecuted as juveniles in the vandalism. Stafford said they also were ordered to read the book and watch the movie.

All the defendants were students or recent graduates of Bridge City High School.

Willie G. Dougherty
National VSO
NVOA Operations Director