In Bosnia's devastated countryside, rural people on both sides of the war sometimes demonstrate an affection for the American troops.
Near Bratunac, 40 miles southeast of Tuzla, five heavily armed Humvees carried more than 20 soldiers last month into a village where many buildings had been blown to rubble while others remained undamaged. The town was in the Republiks Srpska, established by Serbs inside Bosnia.Suddenly, a half dozen children ran from their nearby yards and greeted the soldiers of Charlie Company, 2nd Division, 6th Infantry Regiment.
Kids in colorful sweatshirts, jeans and shorts grinned and talked to the Americans. Beaming young soldiers gave them some MREs, packages of "meals ready to eat."
A man with white hair and a wrinkled face walked to the vehicles as they prepared to leave, saying something in the Serbian lan-guage.
"He was saying that he had two land mines," a soldier reported.
As the convoy pulled away, children waved.
The troops reconnoitered the town of Bratunac and walked across its bridge into Serbia, without running into trouble. Then they returned to the village to make sure the mines weren't left beside the road where they would be a hazard.
It was near dusk. A family ate dinner under the trees of their yard, sitting on an angular bench.
The family shook hands with the soldiers when they arrived. A farmer pointed far up the green hillside, indicating where the older man had left the mines.
Lt. Anthony Williams said the patrol would tell ordnance experts about the mine and the engineers would return to take care of them.
Meanwhile, children clustered around the Humvees, giving soldiers the high-five. The men handed out more MREs. They didn't need the packaged food because contractors always prepared hot, fresh meals at the base.
Several men and women ventured over to talk to the Amer-i-cans.
A boy, about 8 years old, proudly brought out his little photo album, flipping through it. He pointed out a winter version of the same scene, a view of local people posing in the snow with U.S. soldiers.
Kevin Stewart, a tough sergeant who has served here since the intervention in 1995, said one of the little girls reminded him of his 6-year-old granddaughter. The soldiers were deeply touched, smiling, shaking hands, sometimes hugging the children.
Two days later, a pair of Humvees took the Deseret News reporter and photographer to a valley in the Muslim-Croat federation near Smoluca, 10 miles northwest of Tuzla. Before the war it was a prosperous region farmed by Serb families. Now, for miles on end, every building in the beautiful valley is destroyed.
Rijad Bahic, a translator for the U.S. Army (who had served with the Muslim-Croat forces himself), said federation troops besieged Serb military units there for two or three weeks.
Some of the valley's homes were destroyed by federation shelling, he said, but most were blown up by Serbs themselves when they pulled out. They didn't want to leave anything for their enemies. They would turn on the propane tank in the basement, light a candle on a top floor, and leave. The house would fill with gas and explode.
At one town near Smoluca, the only inhabitants were a pair of Muslim shepherds camping in tents.
They were Ramzih and Adam Bahtir, brothers from a nearby town, who had served together four years in the federation army.
Ramzih Bahtir said the brothers had no hatred for the Serbs who used to live there. They'd be glad if they returned and rebuilt.
Sometimes he runs into Serbs in the marketplace, and the old enemies talk with each other without animosity, he said. "We would like to see everyone return to their own homes," he added. They would like to see peace return "more than anything."
Should the Americans be here?
Adam Bahtir, translated by Bahic, responded, "He's saying to Americans to rule and our people to work. Then we can work it out. Here, you know, all what you need is for one brain to lead. And for strength, and everything, we got that."
Adam Bahtir did not think Bosnia was sophisticated enough for democracy. Some other country should come and lead, he said. "Because we are hard-working people, and our strength, it's enough."
He had a plea for Americans: "You - don't feel you should leave."