Written by Todd DePastino

The VBC returned from its trip to Karlovac, Croatia, to meet with veterans of the Croatian War of Independence, 1991-1995, and to discuss the seemingly simple question: “What is a Veteran?” Croatians have recently adopted the word “Veterani” to describe those who have served in the armed forces. The word itself–as opposed to the Yugoslav terms, Partisan or Defender–has a universal quality that connects those who have served across space and time. Below is a video created by Studio Europa, who tracked our visit and its many activities. You’ll recognize some names and faces of our VBC veterans who made the trip. Below the video is a translation of the parts of the video in Croatian.

Whether from the war in Vietnam, Iraq, Korea, or Croatia, war veterans share similar fates: difficulties in adjusting to life after the war, psychological and physical recovery, and public perception of them. For the first time in Croatia, American and Croatian veterans are sharing their experiences in Karlovac. Members of the nonprofit organization Veterans Breakfast Club from Pittsburgh, veterans and their spouses, as well as spouses of the deceased, have arrived at the invitation of the Karlovac Association of the 110th Brigade, which is celebrating the 33rd anniversary of its legendary brigade.

“To share your experiences and to learn about your military service and what it means to be a veteran here, what it means to have served in the military. And what we found is that veterans are veterans. I never hesitated to come to Karlovac. Everything was organized from the national parks to Karlovac, then from Karlovac to Zadar, from Karlovac to Pakrac, from Karlovac to Vinkovci, to Vukovar, and then to Zagorje, and finally to Dubrovnik. Even though we had never met before, we were never in one place, we don’t speak the same language, but we all share the same spirit…”

They are gathered around nonprofit organizations like the Veterans Breakfast Club, which encourages veterans to share their war stories with the community. Chad Rittle is a native, his grandmother and children are from Severin. He served in the Navy on warships. “In combat situations, some come home mentally better off than others. You can never tell. I’ve always tried to get to know some of them at the Veterans Breakfast Club, and they have been repressing their experiences for years. They never resolved their issues. I love sharing with my kids what we did. I was in Vietnam in 1968 with the Marine Corps. I was. I was injured. We made a lot of sacrifices, and there was a lot of circulation, but I’m very happy and fortunate to have seen it. And I live a good life today.”

30 to 40 years of paying the price of war, taking care of the veterans of the Homeland War and their family members. Entire families are affected by the war trauma, so their spouses suffer equally, and there are certain problems with their children. The Ministry of Croatian Veterans has really, over the past several years, through a series of legislative measures and other activities, strongly focused on the veteran population with the aim of prevention, to recognize serious illnesses in time, to save many lives.

During their six-day stay in Karlovac, American veterans participated in all the commemorations marking the day of the 110th Brigade. They were particularly impressed by the Homeland War Museum. “The achievements of the Croatian people. I was very impressed with the men and women who served here in their military. It is very different from my experience. What fascinates me here is that these men and women fought at home. You know, this is where they grew up, this is where they lived, this is their home. It’s very different from my experience, where I was thousands of miles away from home. And they fought to protect their area, their home, their land.”

Some also participated in the rafting organized by the 110th Brigade for the fourth year in a row. This time, they rafted down the Dobrica and Kupa rivers from Grdun to Gaza. All of this is supposed to be the beginning of much wider cooperation.