For families of troops, anticipation becomes fear PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN/Impact at home

January 17, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

Phyllis Edwards had almost finished hanging pictures of peace symbols and praying hands and American eagles all the way around the walls of the Overlea United Methodist Church, thinking "this was a sign that maybe we're not going to war."

Hours later, "We were speechless," she said, when the radio news told her war had come to the Middle East. She was at home at the time, getting ready for a support group meeting with other families of troops deployed to Saudi Arabia. Her two sons are career military men -- Wayne, 31, an Army warrant officer and Barry, 30, an Air Force sergeant.

Edwards had mixed feelings leading up to what she thought would be a war for oil. But she believed, too, that Saddam Hussein had to be stopped. "So I guess maybe it was time to go in to attack him," she said. "I'm not for war at any cost."

President Bush's speech made American goals "a little clearer," she said.

She watched the Bush speech with other support group members in the home of Steven and Cecilia Hoehn, whose son Bill Taylor is an activated Marine reservist.

The audience in the Hoehn's Rosedale home gasped when Bush, speaking of Saddam, said "only force would make him leave." And their tears flowed in silence when he thanked the soldiers' families.

The Hoehns and their guests liked the speech, but afterward, Cecilia Hoehn said Bush's words had become "kind of a blur." She was still absorbing the shock of war. All day yesterday, "you're expecting it to come," she said, "and when it comes, it hits you."

For Mary Carter Cross of Carroll County, worried anticipation of what was coming took its toll hours before the first blow came. She was driving in the morning fog from her home in New Windsor to her job as a teacher at Calverton Middle School in Baltimore when she skidded off the road. Her son Joe H. Carter is on active duty with an Army transportation unit.

"I was out of control, I guess. I just couldn't make it to work," she said. "I just found myself crying and crying."

The television war bulletins finally made her fears reality, and, she said, "I'm just hurting. I hurt."

When Herman Mischke heard the news, he looked to his wife and said, "It had to be done." Their son Kurt is deployed with a National Guard Military Police unit.

Mischke's wife agreed, he said, as the television blurbed more news in their Lutherville home, "but at times she clings to me, needs a good firm grip."

Mischke, who emigrated from East Germany in 1958, said he lost his parents and many relatives "in Hitler time."

He tries not to worry about Kurt. "If he got wounded or killed, it would be a big shock," Mischke said, "but right now, very calm."

In East Baltimore, Angelette Smothers already was grieving in front of her television. Her husband Aaron is a specialist in the same unit as Kurt Mischke.

She had slept with a Bible at her side the night before and planned to do so again last night. Then she remembered that she probably wouldn't sleep at all.

Her husband had called on Monday and said he was not afraid. But Angelette Smothers could only think, "My prayer is that he can defend himself."

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