Invasion Of Kuwait Becomes Personal Spalding Senior

Worries For Friends Still There

September 25, 1990|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

Until recently, the two years Tom Winters spent in Kuwait as a student were only a postcard memory, a chance to sample another culture.

But since American troops have been sent to protect the region, his first-hand knowledge makes the 17-year-old an unofficial ambassador of sorts at Archbishop Spalding High.

"It disturbs me because Kuwait was a nice place," Tom said. "I had a couple of friends who would have graduated this year there. Half my class is still there, including Americans and Kuwaitis. Many of them who I stayed in contact with left in June, but they lost everything they had."

Tom was one of the hundreds of students and faculty members who sat in the auditorium at Spalding yesterday, listening to an address by Samir Hawana, a member of the Washington-based Citizens For a Free Kuwait.

The glass-enclosed Kuwaiti display in the school's library, as well as the flag prominently displayed on stage yesterday, are all on loan from the Winters family.

Tom may have a more personal stake in the crisis than most, but interest in Hawana's talk ran high. For instance, students wanted to know who will take over if Saddam Hussein is assassinated.

Hawana told students that he is unaware of anyone being groomed as the heir apparent. "Once he is gone, it is over," he said. "There is no No. 2. Have you ever seen anyone else besides Hussein or a reporter reading the news?" He said that sanctions are the only measure -- outside of war -- that could force Iraqi troops out of his homeland.

"I feel an embargo to keep food out will help," Hawana said. "They can chant victory slogans all they want, but there will be someone who will say 'I am hungry.' I think that will do it."

When asked whether he feels that war is inevitable, he said: "I wish to God that the crisis will end peacefully. There are a lot of Kuwaitis who will be killed and a lot of innocent people. Under a person like that (Hussein), it would be impossible to live. We all pray that it will end peacefully."

But he holds out little hope of salvaging his home or personal belongings. The crisis developed while Hawana and his family were on vacation in San Francisco, and they have not been able to return.

"I saw it on CNN and I couldn't believe it," he said after the assembly. "I spend my time now trying to educate people about Kuwait. Americans are very supportive of us."

The soft-spoken speaker showed little emotion when asked about the family Mercedes, home and valuables left behind.

"It's about Christianity with us," Hawana said after his talk. "I feel that God gives and takes away."

Hawana said he is a former university professor teaching education in Kuwait, but is now working with the Free Kuwait committee as a coordinator of public information. The organization is comprised of international citizens opposing the invasion by Hussein and Iraqi forces. The group supports armed resistance within Kuwait and acts as a liaison between refugees and those remaining.

But for Tom, the current unrest means seeing his father called to active duty and losing contact with several family friends still living in Kuwait.

Tom's father's position as an Air Force liaison officer between Kuwait and the United States meant spending eighth and ninth grades in a school comprised of only about 10 percent Americans. But outside of adjusting to Arabic customs that did not allow public displays of affection and created almost separate societies for men and women, Tom remembers his two years before leaving in 1988 fondly.

"We played soccer a lot and went to Hardee's for hamburgers," he said.

Both Tom and his mother Jean were instrumental in organizing yesterday's assembly to help students understand more about the crisis.

The large banner reading "Free Kuwait" in the school's front foyer and the more than 700 yellow ribbons students wore during the assembly reminded him of the overwhelming support.

Tom was among the students wearing bright red "Free Kuwait" T-shirts. But in his home, the crisis is more than just a current events lesson.

"When I come home, CNN is on and we don't turn it off until we go to bed," the high school senior said. "I don't like to see what's happening."

However, even in better days, Kuwait's border with Iraq was a constant reminder of the potential for armed struggle, especially with the Iran-Iraq war being played out only miles away.

"We would hear bombs," Tom said. "It would scare me at first, but after awhile it became a joke. Every once in a while they would miss and hit a Kuwaiti village."

But now, Tom does not speak lightly of the potential dangers for Americans and Kuwaitis in the Persian Gulf. While Hawana supports an embargo, Tom sees a need for more forceful measures.

"I can't see any alternative besides military action," Tom said. "Hussein is a smart man."

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