Band of brothers

  • Jon Kelly
  • 14 Oct 08, 03:13 AM GMT

GETTYSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA: When Michael Cobb retuned from the Vietnam war in 1968, he had trouble following orders. After witnessing carnage all around him and losing his closest comrades, it was near-impossible for Michael to take instructions from civilians who just didn't understand.

Back home in the US, he'd flitted from job to job. He recognised that his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) made him a difficult character with which to live.

Michael Cobb, John Molloy, Artie Muller "As a veteran, your life has been threatened so many times," Michael told me. "To come back and have some guy in an office tell you what to do..." He paused. "You think: how dare they. How dare they. But you can't operate like that.

"I take anti-depressants all the time. I wake up in a cold sweat thinking I've killed someone.

"The only people who understand are other veterans. That's why we're all like brothers."

Michael, 61, had found that sense of fraternity in Rolling Thunder, a pressure group of which he was national chairman. Dedicated to supporting and lobbying on behalf of veterans and prisoners of war, it has specialised in mobilising mass protests led by motorbike-riding ex-military personnel.

Artie Muller, 63, another Rolling Thunder officer and Vietnam vet, shot me an inscrutable look from behind his dark glasses. "We're not a motorcycle club," he intoned. "When 500,000 of us show up for a demonstration in Washington, there aren't any clowns or sideshows."

Both Michael and Artie had come through from New Jersey to see their friend John Molloy, who headed up the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition.

They felt that veterans had been ignored by Washington. Michael said he'd spent 23 years fighting the system to claim the benefits he was due before the authorities relented. All three were scathing about politicians who, they felt, were only out for themselves.

You might have expected that they'd be enthusiastic backers of John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate and former prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton.

They were all voting for him, but reluctantly. They had disagreed with his efforts to normalise relations with Vietnam while US personnel who had been reported missing in action remained unaccounted for.

"I've got mixed feelings about Senator McCain," Michael said.

"But we can't have Obama running the country. He doesn't have the experience."

I asked them how they felt about the issues surrounding the election. John, 62, had studied hard after leaving the military and become an investment banker.

But it angered him, he said, that Wall Street had been given a $700m bail-out while ex-service men and women had to struggle to get their dues.

Artie Muller "If it wasn't for the veterans, people wouldn't be free to make money in the first place," he said.

I wanted to know how they felt about Afghanistan and Iraq. John spoke for all of them: he'd worked in the World Trade Center before 9/11, and had lost friends in the attacks.

This had convinced him firmly the conflicts were justified. "You can talk about coming back with PTSD from Vietnam - well, it comes after watching people jump out of those towers, too," he added. The others nodded in agreement.

At a time when the outgoing president's popularity had fallen to an all-time low, they remained staunch supporter of George Bush. He had been rare among politicians, Michael said: Bush had listened to them on veterans and POW issues, spoken to them after demonstrations.

"We gave him one of these vests we're wearing," chuckled Artie, pointing at his leather waistcoat. "He couldn't wait to put it on.

"He doesn't care about being popular, he just wants to do the right thing."

I asked if I could take their photograph. They instinctively wrapped their arms around each other's shoulders.

Theirs was a bond forged by a common experience. A bond that someone like I, never having witnessed the same hardships and traumas, shouldn't pretend to understand.


  • Comment number 1.

    McCain's support for normalizing relations with Vietnam is one thing I can respect him for. If we normalized relations with Germany and Japan after WWII, and for that matter with Britain after the American Revolution and the War of 1812, why not with Vietnam? We ought to normalize relations with Cuba as well.

  • Comment number 2.

    #1. I agree 100%.

    Neither is the claim that american MIA's are 'unaccounted for' in any way true. In reality there are just SIX US MIA's from the Vietnam war who are truly unaccounted for (it used to be 7 but 1 was found in thailand 20 years after he deserted). This compares to literally thousands of missing americans from WW2.

    A pilot who's plane was seen to explode in mid-air is listed as MIA because there's always a million to one chance he's survived but in reality his body has been blown to atoms. The US keeps a very large and very expensive lab complex on Hawai and at great cost these guys journey deep into the jungles of Asia to recover & identify the remains of downed airmen. The Vietnamese are quite cooperative about this and bodies are still being returned.

    US POW's being kept in secret camps make great Tom Clancy or Rambo plots but its pure fantasy.

  • Comment number 3.

    That's George W. Bush's legacy summed up in one sentence:

    "He doesn't care about being popular, he just wants to do the right thing."

    The same could be said of Tony Blair too.

    The two should go down in history, as perhaps not great politicians, but simply good men.

  • Comment number 4.

    Can someone explain to me how these guys who fought in Vietnam and Iraq secured my freedom to live in the US? How exactly did they secure my freedom by invading and fighting in these countries? I think if they didn't fight there, I would have the same if not more freedom. I can't understand this crying when soldiers all over the world now and in history learned how to cope with their experiences. Sounds like crutches to me.

  • Comment number 5.

    "These guys", respectfully known as United States military men and women, secure your freedom simply by their presence. They are available when called to duty, protecting and defending the people of the United States and our interests.
    You don't have to agree with where the military is placed, nor with the policy makers who placed them.
    What you do OWE them is respect! Their lives are on the line in today's voluntary military so that YOUR right to say whatever your brain thinks is protected--whether anyone else appreciates your voice or not.

    I am from the generation that came of age after the Vietnam War, and it sickens me to see how our veterans were treated when they came home after the war. It makes me furious that so many of the 60's generation celebrate their existence by touting such monumental achievements as spitting on soldiers, burning draft cards and fleeing to other countries, embracing a drugged up culture as if it were so enlightening that the rest of us are not enlightened if we are repulsed by it.

    In one word I can sum up for many of my generation why our military men and women are so respected today---Vietnam. All those yellow ribbons during and after the 1st Gulf War was a statement. Even liberal politicians get that today, which is why---unlike the 60's---they openly support the troops if not the war for fear of a constituent backlash at the polls.

    As for "crying", known as post traumatic stress, it is very real. I have two friends suffering from it right now, as well as an uncle whose life was never the same after Vietnam. Unless you have experienced it, you have absolutely no right to shame these veterans by applying the word "crutches".

  • Comment number 6.

    #4. The point is that many vets from previous wars DIDN'T cope with their experiences. Many killed themselves, many more turned to drink or drugs. I can't speak for the US, but in the UK more Falklands vets have killed themselves than died in the actual war and ex-servicemen make up a huge percentage of the homeless, prison population and mentally ill.

    They get zero help from a government that is all too happy to toss money at any minority group or 'multicultural inclusion' programme that asks for it while simultaneously expecting our troops to do more and more abroad to make up for a clueless foreign policy.

  • Comment number 7.

    #4, I don't think that the soldiers all over the world and throughout history have learned how to cope with their experiences. Instead, they often go on brutal and bloody rampages in the name of such and such, or they go home and their family splits, because they cannot identify with them anymore.

  • Comment number 8.


    The military and veterans have made huge contributions to your freedom. A nation needs to not only defend itself when attacked, but also show that they can and will defend themselves.

    Vietnam might seem as a failure, but if allowed become communist freely, no doubt there would be much more communist nations in south east Asia and elsewhere.

    Iraq is not a failure, and in fact this war should of been fought in 1991, but wasn't dealt with. Hussain was using chemical warfare and had other major weapon in stock (read: I have family/friends that were in the first Gulf War). To say that WMDs never existed is wrong. Only the sand can tell us how much was buried. (Now that a brilliant idea for old Iraq: bury the WMD so the invasion looks illegitimate)

    Both of those wars involved defends people natural and democratic rights. Nice for us to complain about the wars in our comfy chairs, but I think it is worth saving people from torture and death. Do you?

    But back to the issue. You have your freedom not because America is immortal and at the whisper of the word freedom all enemies are gone. No, your freedom is protect by a military that defends freedom.

  • Comment number 9.

    Frankly, these guys sound like what a fellow Vietnam Vet friend of mine refers to as "professional Vietnam veterans".

    Millions of us came home, took on responsible jobs, raised families and contributed to society. We conquered our demons, or at least learned to live with them, and didn't blame Vietnam for anti-social or irresponsible behavior, nor did we use our veteran's status to cloak our private prejudices.

    Some of us are even O'Bama supporters.

    Don't let the lunatic fringe continue the fraud that all Vietnam vets are knee-jerk ultra-patriots. Many of us are simply the guy, and in some cases the gal, next door.

  • Comment number 10.

    #7. Vets don't 'often' go on bloody rampages. There were half a million americans in Vietnam. How many have gone beserk. Its no more true than saying teens who post on youtube often go on bloody rampages.

    The vast majority of vets manage to deal with what they saw (see comment 9) and those that don't normally hurt themselves not others.

  • Comment number 11.

    #4 You wouldn't have heard about any soldiers with an inability to cope in the First World War then? Shell shock?

    I'm sure if was to dig a little I'd get anecdotal evidence from the Boer War or Crimean.

  • Comment number 12.

    bewls01 (#4), I've never thought the Vietnam War did anything good for the US (and I was of draft age during it), but I wouldn't take it out on the men and women who served there. They were victims, too, in my opinion.

    Actually, there are two good things that came out of the Vietnam War, now that I think about it.

    1. The US armed forces studied the war and developed new policies intended such fiascos in the future. The "Powell doctrine" or the "Weinberger-Powell" doctrine is a component of this. Our armed forces are better today because of the lessons of Vietnam.

    2. It brought Vietnamese to the US, so today I can go out early Sunday morning to the Vietnamese bakery and get a real French baguette still warm from the oven.

  • Comment number 13.

    Where do I begin? I am being specific here..not comparing all soldiers to wars that were obvious to fight like WW2, where in fact it did secure freedoms. To say that fighting Vietnam secured other countries falling to the red carpet is absurd as it created some countries to actually fall to the systems they fought against. Like saying we are fighting in Iraq to stop terrorist when in fact we are creating more of them. As a hypothetical, if all US soldiers refused to fight in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and Iraq in 2003, maybe it would have served the greater good in the end which may imply less deaths for
    innocent people who don't care about this idea of democracy and just want to live their life without losing their family to napalm and other means of destruction. I am not trying to be politacal, just humane. Vietnam was an ego war..sorry to say and many of our US soldiers did unspeakable things here (where I live now) and the result was that it did not secure any freedom that I know of...just caused millions of unjust deaths. I also have good friends who fought here and they either feel remorse, messed up or have made something of their life. I also run into the GIs who still come here and try to be king and relive their 'thing'. I grew during and the aftermath of it all and still see it as a crime although the soldiers did not know what they were in for, it is war for christ sake. What did they expect? Some kind of movie where they become Audi Murohy? I have been around war in Cambodia in 93 & 94 and lost good friends to the mess there..all for nothing to tell me that the soldiers have to have all our respect and sympathy is just laying eggs..some do, some don't. This is not a holy thing. I have despise for the administrations that send them but ultimately they have the choice to act. I still think they whine about MIA ( a crock really if you consider the $ spent on such programs) and their lives. Get help and be soldiers, even after 40 years. Maybe they think they are just war celebs and its all they can hold on to.
    I don't support our troops because they are fighting an unjust war now in Iraq. If they had the balls to refuse the fight, maybe we would not be in this mess now instead of just following orders like many of 'our hated enemies' do and we despise them for that.

  • Comment number 14.

    These guys give veterans a bad name. Thankfully there are many who are less knee-jerk in their patriotism and oppose the current illegal war in Iraq.

    This particular batch of vets is more reminiscent of the bitter German patriots who survived WW1 and became the core of Hitler's support. Instead of brown shirts these guys find group identity in macho biker attire. Pathetic and scary at the same time.

  • Comment number 15.

    I am glad that all the destruction resulted in nice bread for you..just kidding mate, but really did we need to do all that for the 'lesson learned' when it seems we are just repeating it in the middle east.

    'We are bringing them freedom' is the last cry after they ran out of other reasons. we should go into Burma then, they would actually greet with open arms, borders China..can't do it.

  • Comment number 16.

    While I understand that many veterans do come back with PTSD and other psychological issues, I think it is important to understand that a lot of soldiers come back and can take up normal lives again.

    I was a little upset by Michael's statement that veterans can't come back and 'take orders' from civilians. I have several friends and coworkers who are veterans of Iraq, and a few from Vietnam. They were almost indistinguishable from anybody else at my place of work, and you would have to ask them to find out they fought overseas.

  • Comment number 17.

    bewls01 (#15), the problem is that the Powell doctrine has not been applied in the current Iraq war, which is why Powell himself has been moved out of the way. Powell still has not endorsed a candidate. I'm wondering if he will, and when.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think iceph03nix you missed his point about not taking orders from civilians.

    I understand what you mean by in terms of how was americas constitutional freedoms threatend by the vietnamese bewls01 , but I think the point he trying to make was all military personal are what protect your freedoms even in times of peace.

    Well bewls01 didn't fighting the nazis create more nazis? Didn't fighting the japs create more japs willing to die for japan? When ever you go to war you always create more of your enemy that is a given, when 9/11 happend didn't that increase hostility by americans to Islam? I think the point was that fighting them in iraq is better then fighting them in america. By fighting in iraq you maybe creating more of them but they are not fighting americans in america.

    As for your hypothetical you could turn that around on the north vietnamese and vietcong, it was them who used cambodia and laos and brought them into the conflict because they couldn't break through the northern frontlines or how about the fact that the peace treaty in 1973 was not honored by any side of that conflict, you could turn your hypothetical to everysingle person involved in all wars in the history of the world. Heck you could even make the case that less people would have died in WW1 if the USA didn't get involved or that less people would have died in WW2 if the USA didn't get involved, or even the Korean war.

    Basically your hypothetical is never going to get a satisfying answer if your looking at the humane side of it all.

  • Comment number 19.

    I am trying to digest the points made. However, the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese were already huge machines that were rolling, not really enlarged because we started to fight against them for they were already in place to do the damage.
    I think also that 'fighting them' in Iraq is better only if you are outside of Iraq...what about the people who live there? I think they would disagree that it is better.

    One last point is that The NVA and most VC soldiers and people from the north of Vietnam saw the fighting against the Americans as an effort to stop an invasion and take over. They did not fight so they could spread a communist policy. The soldiers fought because they believed the US was doing what they French did before and invaded to occupy. For this reason they used the only strategy that would be effective.

    Yes, imagine if all soldiers refused to fight..what a dream that is!!!

  • Comment number 20.

    Forty years on, and the passions are high as ever.

    We all have stories to tell, although I was too young (by about five years) to be caught up in it directly.

    But this story brings back memories.

    The son of my parents' best friends was killed in an ambush during a 'Christmas truce' called by the Vietcong. He was a young Marine, a nice nice young man. The mom and dad and younger brother were crushed by his death.

    The really devastating part of their loss came later, as they watched the helicopters pull away from the roof of the embassy for the final time.

    The young soldiers had never been allowed to win, and were then vilified for their service by the likes of John Kerry and Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter (who pardoned those who ran to Canada).

    God bless Mr. Cobb and his friends. One of his brethren is my next door neighbor, a good man who still suffers from his service long ago.

  • Comment number 21.

    I don't see how soldiers have ever protected my freedom, or anyone else's. In Vietnam, the US decided that Vietnam's national elections had produced the wrong results (in their opinion). Whether they were fair elections is another matter, we might never know that.

    But appointing the government of another country on the grounds that democracy was not working the way the US thought it should - ah, I have a problem with that.

    Did the election pick a good winner? Probably not, but freedom entails the freedom to make mistakes. If you prohibit mistakes, you prohibit freedom.

    Was the US-backed side any better? Probably not, and probably much worse. The US picked a lot of corrupt officials in the 60s and 70s to do their handywork. Iran is controlled by a totalitarian government today because the US and UK replaced a democratically-elected leader with a corrupt and rather evil puppet. This happened a lot. Even Cuba could be considered a product of US interference and manipulation in the domestic affairs of others.

    Ok, are wars always bad? Well, no. WW2 is an example of a reasonably just war, or as just as they get, at least. It's a pity the US was more interested in confiscating UK-owned properties and supplying the Germans, up until the Japanese attacked, and it's not that surprising to me that there are so many theories about Pearl Harbour. Under the circumstances, it would be amazing if there weren't.

    It also bothers me that about as many, perhaps more, died under the resultant power blocs as died throughout the war, and the states defeated ended up financially controlling what they could not militarily control, which makes me wonder who actually "won".

    What about the military men and women? Well, they vary between glory-seekers (the General Custer variety), the religious fanatics (the US armed forces version of the Taleban), those who are there because the benefits and education are cheaper, and those who actually want to do some good.

    The fourth of those is a minority, but such people do exist. Unless you have the power to read minds, do not assume you know who falls into which group. If you intend to be fair and considerate to those who intend good, you can only do so by being fair and considerate to them all. There's no other way to be sure you didn't cause a few "collateral damages" yourself.

    If you follow any Judeo-Christian, remember the story of the Ten Good Men. There'll be more than ten good people serving in the armed forces, no matter how small a minority they are. That should be enough for you to not lash out at them.

  • Comment number 22.

    I flirted with joining UK army ( via TA) back in the early 90's before what I thought would be natural progression after college graduation into applying for officer commission.

    It was always a dream of mine from a young age to be in military but after only a small exposure, I realized it was not for me. I hated the Army officer class system, the underlying racism, the violence of the squadies. Thankfully, I could walk away from it all.

    I shudder to think that should I have pursued it further. Would the reality of war, have made me like the vets portrayed here? I think so.

    In the US, I know of two people exposed to such a situation.

    One, a Viet Vet who reluctantly enrolled in air force to avoid a draft in the army. He recently told me over a few beers how badly Vietnam messed him up. His big issue was of the South Vietnamese that were left behind and how when he came back to the US, he "went off the rails" for a number of years. As the beer increase, the more maudlin he became.

    The other is a first Gulf war vet Marine. In his eyes, it was the best conflict he could be exposed to. His disapointment was the war ending too fast. He is wanting to get back out there but is now 'paid too much' in his civy job to give it up. No regrets on his previous exposure.

    One curious observation as as non-Citizen living here in the US is how much the 'Vets" are worshiped. Their have quite a bit of entitlement via GI bill, Vet healthcare and VA mortgages. Veterans "rights" is a third rail in US politcs as in 'don't touch'.

    To quote Wikepdia :The phrase third rail is a metaphor in politics to denote an idea or topic that is so "charged" and "untouchable" that any politician or public official who dares to broach the subject would invariably suffer politically"

  • Comment number 23.

    "He doesn't care about being popular, he just wants to do the right thing."

    That's rich. Actually, one only has to look at Bush's conduct over the past 8 years to realize that he doesn't care about his image TO A CERTAIN SEGMENT OF THE POPULATION. But he is VERY aware of how he looks before the constituency to which he panders. Honest? Please, give me a break. This man seems to go to any length to disseminate lies and half-truths. Trashed the U.S. Constitution. He has sullied everything the U.S.A. supposedly stands for, and cloaks his treasonous actions in the flag.

    These three veterans featured in this blog are dupes. Bush tells them what they want to hear, nothing more, nothing less. And they only hear what they want to hear.

    "John spoke for all of them: he'd worked in the World Trade Center before 9/11, and had lost friends in the attacks. This had convinced him firmly the conflicts were justified."

    And these guys STILL think that 9/11 was committed by Iraqis! Unbelievable. It's patently clear to everyone by now, unless you are somewhat dull-witted, that Iraq had nothing to do with the planning or implementation of the attacks on 9/11. Guys like these are comfortable with that fantasy. It justifies their wrong-headed, irrational beliefs.

    As another poster noted, a veteran, there are a lot of veterans out there who don't believe any of this tripe, but unfortunately, people like these three dominate news coverage of this topic. Hey, BBC, how about a little BALANCE for a change!

  • Comment number 24.

    "This particular batch of vets is more reminiscent of the bitter German patriots who survived WW1 and became the core of Hitler's support. Instead of brown shirts these guys find group identity in macho biker attire. Pathetic and scary at the same time."

    Thats not a bad analogy. HOWEVER I personally feel that the German vets of WW1 were treated atrociously by the victors. If we hadn't imposed such punative sanctions on the Germans at Versailles Hitler would have had to stick to painting. Perhaps if the vets coming back from Vietnam had been given a little respect these guys would do something better with their lives too?

  • Comment number 25.

    The "Band of brothers" not only look, but sound more like a band of thugs. I served with these characters in the Vietnam War back in 68-69 and most of them were born, bred and raised in the bible belt portion of the USA. I didn't like these ignorance and the arrogance and downright hatred for the vietnamese then and I don't like it now.

    These are the same remnants of those vicious warmongers like the "Swift Boater" who tried to crucify one of the own (Perhaps the only true hero in the whole batch) by the name of John Kerry, who was running for president of the US under the Democratic Party banner.

    You must remember, Jon, if one sleeps with dogs he just might end up with fleas!

    Keep up the good work! For once we are witness the truth about the USA.

    The comment on Post # 14 said it for all of us who served in the Vietnam War: "These guys give veterans a bad name!"

    I still cannot look a Vietnamese straight in the face, even after all these years!

  • Comment number 26.

    Tomasjpn: Where did he say he thought iraqis were responsible for 9/11? You do know he was referring to the so called "war on terror" That doesn't mean he believes iraq had anything to do with 9/11 just that he believes that the iraq conflict is part of the war on terror.

  • Comment number 27.

    bewls01: anyway you look at it the Nazi military warmachine increased in sized after france and britain declared war on them, Russia's military size increased after nazi declared war on them. America's military increased in size when japan declared war on america. When ever you go to war your enemy increases in size.

    As for the iraq comment, thats the point, your not looking at it from an iraqi perspective, your looking at it from the american perspective that it is better to fight them in afghanistan and iraq rather in then in america.

    Ok and I can make the claim that American soldiers also joined in to stop communism from spreading because they believed that if North vietnam won along with vietcong that communism would spread. Hindsight is 20/20. What strategy was that? Breaking the 1973 peace accords? Invading cambodia and laos? I believe the point was that your hypothetical could go both ways. If only the North Vietnamese and the vietcong took a step back and said maybe we shouldn't go through cambodia and laos to break through northern frontlines, maybe then more innocents would have lived rather then died.

    In the end it doesn't really matter what the justification/belief/motivate to fight is because innocents die no matter what the justification is.

  • Comment number 28.

    "These are the same remnants of those vicious warmongers like the "Swift Boater" who tried to crucify one of the own (Perhaps the only true hero in the whole batch) by the name of John Kerry, who was running for president of the US under the Democratic Party banner."

    Kerry volunteered for the Navy, most americans in Nam were drafted. Who's really the warmonger? Equally given Kerry's testimony to congress after the war I know exactly who tried crucifing who.

    Kerry was a joke in Vietnam and a joke of a presidential candidate. His whole 'hero' status comes from simply running against Bush. Frankly if Hitler had come back from the dead and stood for the dems in 2004 he'd have had the same praise heaped on him.

  • Comment number 29.

    "Vietnam might seem as a failure, but if allowed become communist freely, no doubt there would be much more communist nations in south east Asia and elsewhere."

    Tenuous to say the least. It could be argued that the Vietnam war led to other nations in the region being opened up to communist revolutionaries due to the creation of an 'us and them' mentality.

    Certainly Cambodia was de-stabilised to such an extent that a power vacumn was created, and this was filled by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I don't think anyone would disagree that this was one of the most, brutal, evil regimes the world has ever seen.

    The Khmer Rouge would probably not have gained as much momentum if Cambodia hadn't been so heavily bombed, destroying the infrastucture and creating millions of refugees.

    The fact that much of this bombing was done in secret makes it all the more appalling.

  • Comment number 30.

    #29. Thats a very bent view of events.

    Cambodia was massively bombed, however it was millions of bombs dropped in the middle of the jungle. I'm unaware of much infastructure beyond jungle trails being destroyed. The US bombing campaign in Asia wasn't done in secret so much as not reported well. In actual fact the US airforce fought with both arms tied behind its back and had huge lists of targets (such as airfields and Haiphong docks) that couldn't be attacked. Instead they wasted their time blitzing trees as trees were authorised targets.

    The Kmer Rouge were actually enemies of Vietnam and enjoyed some US support because of that. It was the Vietnamese army eventually toppled them.

    The 'domino effect' was stopped by Britain in Malaya a decade before Vietnam and in Thailand because the Reds had no popular support. Indeed the VC in South Vietnam had little grass roots support and the US probably aided them by stirring up such resentment in the average Vietnamese than communism didn't seem such a bad option!

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


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