The following answers to readers' questions were compiled by Colin Bessonete of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Q: U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is often seen wearing a military-type uniform with military-type decorations and ornaments. Is that authorized, and are the decorations earned?A: As the highest-ranking officer in the Public Health Service's commissioned corps, the surgeon general is entitled to wear a uniform and service ribbons. She and the other officers wear them routinely, said PHS spokesman Winston Dean.

The commissioned corps is one of the nation's seven uniformed services, along with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Background: The Public Health Service traces its origin to July 16, 1798, when the government authorized marine hospitals for the care of American merchant seamen. The agency was formally established in 1870 as the Marine Hospital Service, becoming the Public Health Service in 1912.

Because of its association with the sea services and for ease of acquisition, PHS officers wear the basic Navy uniform components as well as distinctive PHS insignia, badges and ribbons.

Elders is authorized to wear five ribbons, including the National Defense Service Ribbon, which she received for serving in the Army from 1953 to 1956 (she was a first lieutenant), and one for her appointment as a regular corps officer of the PHS commissioned corps. The other three denote membership in the Commissioned Officers Association of the PHS, the Reserve Officers Association and the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. She also wears a PHS surgeon general's badge.

Q: Where can I write Joycelyn Elders, who was fired from her position as U.S. surgeon general by President Clinton? I want to commend her for her honesty and bravery.

A: The address: Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders, Office of the Surgeon General, Room 18-66, Parklawn Building, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20857. Her termination is effective Dec. 31.

Q: What does the word "general" mean in such titles as surgeon general, attorney general and postmaster general?

A: Top dog will do nicely - the ultimate chief.

The U.S. attorney general, appointed by the president and subject to approval by the Senate, heads the Department of Justice. Janet Reno is the current attorney general.

Each state government has an attorney general, elected by the voters in 43 states and chosen by differing means in the other seven.

The surgeon general, appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate, serves as head of the Public Health Service and is equivalent in rank to a Navy vice adm- iral.

The postmaster general is responsible for day-to-day operations of the Postal Service, a quasi-public agency. Marvin Runyon is postmaster general.

Q: There's been a lot of talk lately about cranberry juice being good for the urinary tract. True?

A: There's no medical proof that drinking cranberry juice helps, but it's better than drinking something containing caffeine, such as cola drinks, coffee or tea. "Cranberry juice helps acidify the urine, and that's beneficial," said a spokeswoman for Urology Associates in Marietta. "Actually water is the best choice, but a lot of our patients drink cranberry juice and like the taste, so we encourage that if they like it."

Q: I saw a story about Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins, D-Mich., being appointed a queen in Ghana and planning to go to West Africa for her coronation. Is this legal?

A: You're probably thinking that the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9) forbids a U.S. officeholder from accepting a title from a foreign state. That's so, but it doesn't apply here, according to a spokeswoman for the congresswoman.

"It's an honorary title from a small village in Ghana. The government of Ghana is not involved," said Meredith Cooper, Collins' chief of staff. "It's comparable to an honorary Ph.D. given by a college. As such, it's not a violation of the Constitution."

Collins' sister-in-law was born in the village, Pepease, and is a princess there.

When Collins visited Pepease several years ago, she saw a need for basic tools "to work the land," Cooper said. "Out of her own pocket, Congresswoman Collins bought shovels and spades for the village and purchased solar lights so the people could work at night." The "totally symbolic" title of queen was bestowed on Collins to show the villagers' appreciation for her generosity, Cooper said.

As a queen mother, Collins will be responsible for development projects in the town. .

Q: When did the first crossword puzzle appear?

A: The first modern crossword puzzle, created by Arthur Wynne, was printed Dec. 21, 1913, in the Sunday New York World.

Q: Sen. Jesse Helms' recent insensitive remark about President Clinton needing a bodyguard if he visited military bases in North Carolina reminded me of a story a few years ago. It involved a Democratic congressman saying that if President George Bush were ill, the Secret Service should be given orders to shoot Vice President Dan Quayle. Did that really happen?

A: The incident was recounted in a recent USA Today editorial column by Joe Urschel. The column contrasted the way newspapers nationwide "vilified" Helms for his remark with the total lack of press reaction to the statement about Quayle you described. According to Urschel, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) once joked that "the Secret Service is under orders that if Bush is shot, to shoot Quayle." To see how newspapers reacted at the time, USA Today's library conducted a computer search of more than 1,000 newspapers and could not find one editorial denouncing Kerry for his remarks, "though even he later recognized them as inappropriate and apologized," Urschel said. .

Q: I know the Salvation Army does charitable work all year long and not just at Christmas. How does the organization operate? How do the people get their training?

A: Founded in London in 1865 by William Booth, a Methodist minister, it's both a religious and a charitable organization. And you're right, it operates all year, although the bell-ringers seeking contributions during the Christmas season create a special awareness.

"The Salvation Army is set up in a quasi-military pattern, with officers holding ranks and receiving housing," said spokeswoman Tiffany Brott in Atlanta. To become an officer, cadets enroll in the College for Officers Training, a two-year seminary program involving a lifetime commitment. A graduate becomes a lieutenant, then captain, major, lieutenant colonel and colonel, based on years of service.

Those holding rank are Salvationists, an offshoot of the Methodist Church. "It's a little more conservative than the Methodist Church," Brott said. "We have position papers against the use of alcohol and tobacco. Part of our mission is to help people overcome their addictions."

Officers are compensated, but "it's more of a living allowance," Brott said. "They do not make big salaries."

Housing is provided for officers, usually near corps community centers that provide religious and social service activities. The organization also has a paid staff whose members are not officers.

The bell-ringers - some of whom are volunteers, others who are paid - perform a vital mission. "They're raising money that helps perpetuate our program," Brott said. "To me, they have one of the most important jobs of all, because they provide the help we give to many people. This holiday season, we will help something like 60,000 people in Atlanta alone."

Q: Can you explain how Jimmy Carter has a granddaughter named Sarah Elizabeth Chuldenko?

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A: When the former president was signing copies of "Always a Reckoning," his first book of poetry, at Atlanta's Emory University, he introduced people to "my granddaughter, Sarah Elizabeth." A spokeswoman at Carter's office said she is the daughter, by marriage, of Carter's oldest son, Jack, and the former president considers her his granddaughter. In the book's dedication, Carter writes: "to Sarah, just 16, who read the poems and sketched what each one meant to her . . ."

In a note about the illustrator, the book says this: "Sarah Elizabeth Chuldenko, an award-winning artist, is a student at the San Francisco School of Fine Arts. After her graduation in 1996, she plans to enter the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston."

Q: Who was the U.S. surgeon general before Joycelyn Elders?

A: In the administration of President George Bush, the surgeon general - the head of the nation's Public Health Service - was Dr. Antonia Novello. Elders, a Little Rock, Ark., pediatrician who was Arkansas' health director when Clinton was governor, became surgeon general when Novello stepped aside two years early in favor of President-elect Clinton's choice.

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