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14 `FRIENDLY FIRE' VICTIMS TO RECEIVE PURPLE HEARTS

Fourteen Americans killed when U.S. pilots shot down two Army helicopters over the Iraq no-fly zone will receive Purple Hearts.

In a brief joint statement Tuesday, Air Force Secretary Sheila E. Widnall and Army Secretary Togo D. West Jr. said the medals were awarded "because the incident took place in a geographic area where the presence of hostile forces was anticipated."It was a change in policy from the position taken by the Army in September when it refused to issue Purple Hearts on the grounds the military personnel were not engaged in hostile action. Several members of Congress asked the Pentagon to reconsider.

"This means so much. Now they have all the honor they deserve," Lynette Ellner told the paper after being notified by the Pentagon Monday night.

Her son, Army Spec. Mark Anthony Ellner, 21, was one of the 26 people killed in April 1994 when American F-15 fighter pilots shot down the helicopters over northern Iraq, mistaking them for Iraqi helicopters violating a no-fly zone.

The Blackhawks were ferrying members of an international group that had been working with the Kurds in northern Iraq since the end of the 1991 gulf war. The others aboard included a State Department foreign service officer, five Kurds employed by the United States, and military officers from Britain, France and Turkey.

Judith Orrill, whose son Sgt. Michael S. Robinson was killed, said the Purple Hearts are overdue.

"It doesn't really help the situation, but they deserve it. They deserve a lot more. I can't under-stand why the Army said no in the first place," she said.

The shootdown deeply embarrassed the Pentagon, whose investigation revealed command fail-ures at several critical levels and a dangerous pattern of lax communications between the Army and Air Force.

Only one of the officers originally charged in the case will face court-martial - a captain in charge of the AWACS radar plane that failed to inform fighter pilots that the Army helicopters were in the area.

That officer, Capt. Jim Wang, will be tried for dereliction this month at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, the Air Force said.