U.S. families grow anxious over those trapped in gulf

November 04, 1990|By Dan Fespermanand Susan Baer | Dan Fespermanand Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun Richard H. P. Sia of The Sun's Washington Bureau contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- In a small town in California, as summer gave way to autumn, 8-month-old David Bazner learned to crawl. Now, with autumn creeping toward winter, he has cut a new tooth and is sprouting a "lovely head of hair," says his mother.

Perhaps David's father, Kevin, knows all this. Perhaps not. That depends on whether the Iraqi government is forwarding the letters from his wife, Dawn. Or maybe he's picked up her messages on Voice of America radio.

The letters he writes tell little, apparently offering only what he is allowed to say. And by the time they arrive, they're 6 or 7 weeks old.

"The waiting," Mrs. Bazner says, "is very, very hard."

Such is life on the home front, as the fourth month begins in TC daily war of nerves for families such as the Bazners.

The State Department estimates that as many as 600 U.S. citizens may still be in Iraq and Kuwait. About 110, like Mr. Bazner, are detained in Baghdad or at key industrial and military sites throughout Iraq, the so-called human shields that President Saddam Hussein refers to as "guests" of the Iraqi government.

An additional 27 are holed up in the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City, surrounded by Iraqi soldiers. Hundreds more are hiding in homes around the city. In some cases, they are sheltered by Kuwaiti families risking execution if caught harboring foreigners. Others are hiding out on their own or with other Americans.

That's the case with Donald Latham, 50; his stepfather, Gene Hughes, 69; and friend, Joe Lammerding, 34. They are sharing a house with a British man and another American. They haven't so much as opened a door since Aug. 16, at last report, and lately haven't even gone near the windows for fear of being spotted by Iraqi soldiers now living next door.

Their dicey lifestyle is common, according to families back home, but also common is their ability to smuggle out letters.

Mr. Hughes' wife, Lucille, and her daughter-in-law, Maria Latham, who is the wife of Donald, have heard, so far, from their men in two phone calls and two letters. The latest letter, typed by Mr. Latham on his personal computer and dated Oct. 20, arrived last Tuesday, and was accompanied by an emotional letter to President Bush appealing for quick military action.

In his first letter to his wife, he wrote of more personal feelings.

"Right now I am thinking of how nice it would be to hear you in the kitchen, or have you come into the computer room and see if I wanted a cup of coffee or something," he wrote his wife in the first letter. "That bed sure gets big when you're not in it with me."

"All of us get depressed at times, but in the main we are coping," he wrote in the most recent one. He said they try to break the monotony with poker on Wednesdays, bridge games on Thursdays, and plenty of reading and games of Monopoly and Scrabble in between.

Boredom is hardly their biggest worry. Food is running low, as is the medication for Mr. Hughes. He has high blood pressure.

Mr. Hughes might not have been in Kuwait at all if it hadn't been for an ill-timed visit he and his wife made in late July. They left their home in Albuquerque, N.M., to meet up with their son and daughter-in-law, who have lived in Kuwait for 10 years. They were due to leave together for a vacation in Europe on Aug. 6. But four days before, the Iraqi army swept across the border and quickly overwhelmed the city.

"We drove around the first week," Mrs. Hughes says. "We saw a lot of destruction. At the rental car lot, they had taken all the cars theywanted and firebombed the rest."

"It was kind of a ragtag army -- young boys and old men. They would give orders and ask questions, but the minute their officers left they would lay down in the shade and rest. Their

hearts weren't in it."

The Bazners were similarly trapped by circumstance. Mr.

Bazner, an American executive of a soft-drink company in

Malaysia, was with his British wife and two children (besides young David, there is Elizabeth, age 6), on their way back to Kuala Lumpur from a visit to the United States. Their British Airways jet landed in Kuwait to refuel. It was the day of the invasion.

The family was taken to Baghdad and held for a month in a hotel. It was then that Mr. Bazner made a bit of a name for himself around the world by suggesting to President Saddam Hussein that it would be a "gesture of sincerity" to release the women and children.

Mrs. Bazner and the children were among the first to leave the country. Around the same time, Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Latham were leaving their husbands behind as well.

"In some respects, my having been there makes it easier for me than for the wives who weren't there," says Mrs. Bazner, now staying at her in-laws' home in Palm Desert, Calif. "But in some respects it makes it harder because you know."

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