Maryland families worry, pray as deadline passes

January 16, 1991|By Ann LoLordo Rafael Alvarez, Dennis O'Brien, Robert A. Erlandson, S. M. Khalid and Joel McCord of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Nothing was resolved for Lori and Dawn Bokeno as the deadline passed that could send their husbands into combat in the Persian Gulf.

It was after midnight, but the White House was dark and morning had dawned in the Middle East without a shot being fired.

Sitting in 24-year-old Lori Bokeno's Baltimore apartment, the two young wives wondered if they could sleep after a long, tense day. Thousands of miles away, their husbands, David Bokeno, 26, a Maryland National Guardsman, and his brother, Darin Bokeno, 20, an Army specialist, were beginning another day.

"Right now, they should be getting up," said Dawn Bokeno, 20. "All they're probably doing is waiting too."

Across the state last night, Marylanders waited for war even as they prayed for peace. At midnight at the Roland Park Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Teresa Martin-Minnick lit the 17th and final candle of an all-day prayer vigil for peace.

"How can you feel hopeful looking at the news?" asked Mrs. Martin-Minnick, an associate pastor. "But when you have this many people coming together in prayer, there's hope for tomorrow. There's hope for change."

But Susan Shaeffer, whose son, Bernard Good Jr., is stationed in Saudi Arabia with the 290th Military Police in Towson, said she had no hope for peace as she left the church shortly before midnight.

"I feel hurt," she said, her eyes filled with tears. "I feel angry. I don't feel there's any hope. I feel like President Bush has gotten us in a big mess, and I don't think any troops are coming home alive. Just because that man refuses to back down."

Earlier yesterday, at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, the roar of heavy artillery had rolled like thunder in the skies, shaking the ground beneath the nearby Roye-Williams Elementary School.

The staff and students at Roye-Williams usually ignore the noise -- test firings are commonplace on the sprawling military installation where the parents of most of the school's children are employed.

But yesterday morning the booming of the big guns could not be ignored. It came as a harbinger of war -- a reminder of the danger facing the 87 parents or relatives who are serving in the Persian Gulf.

"Today I had a student come up to me and say, 'Today is the final countdown. Today we're going in,' " said Suzanne E. Skowronski, a fifth-grade teacher. "I told him we didn't know if we were going in. But they're very aware of what is happening."

During a therapy session, a second-grader told speech pathologist Carin Kohlebus that her father was in Saudi Arabia. She had a lot more to say.

"She expressed fears that her father could lose an arm or a leg . . . she was afraid that someone would be coming to her house to inform her family that her father had been killed," said Ms. Kohlebus, part of a nine-member team established to recognize signs of stress in students and to assist them and their families in coping with the prospect of war. "She didn't dwell on it. Then she went on to something else and never mentioned it again."

When Columbia teacher Kathy Carr asked a group of children at Phelps Luck Elementary School why Jan. 15 was special, the students had ready answers:

It was the day the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was born; the day the Vietnam War ended; the day on which another war could begin.

From the City Dock in Annapolis to the Roland Park Presbyterian Church, from Liberty Christian School in Owings Mills to the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Northeast Baltimore, people watched the clock and wondered what would happen after midnight -- the deadline for Iraq to withdraw its troops from Kuwait.

They debated the purpose of the war and the best way to conduct it. They protested against it and prayed that it would simply pass over the sands of Saudi Arabia like a dark cloud and disappear.

For many of the Maryland families with relatives serving in Operation Desert Shield, the day was like any other -- they went to work, cared for a sick child at home, ferried a youngster to majorette practice. And yet it was the day they had all been dreading, the day on which the future of their husbands and sons, wives and daughters would turn.

"We just don't know what Wednesday's going to bring," said Steven Hoehn of Rosedale, whose 19-year-old stepson, Army reservist William R. Taylor, is in Saudi Arabia. "The more you listen and the more you see, the more inevitable it seems that some kind of action is going to be taken."

"We're sort of holding our breath and praying to see what the president will do," said Barbara Mischke of Lutherville, who keeps a photo of her son, Pvt. James Kurt Mischke, on her desk at the Liberty Christian School in Owings Mills.

For Lori Bokeno, Jan. 15 began with a 3:30 a.m. telephone call from her husband. The sound of his voice saying, "Hi, baby," transformed the day into a renewal of her faith that it will all work out.

"I don't say what if," Mrs. Bokeno said last night. "My husband is coming home to me. He's the best thing that's ever happened to me."

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