With hope, shock, awe and fear, Maryland moods rise and fall on waves of war WAR IN THE GULF

January 18, 1991|By Michael Ollove Michael J. Clark, Rafael Alvarez, Ginger Thompson, Roger Twigg and S. M. Khalid of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

When she heard the siren wailing, Deborah Gomez snatched her 8-year-old son in her arms and ran to her mother crying that they weren't prepared for this and had to rush down to the basement for protection.

Then Ms. Gomez woke up from what she called the worst nightmare of her life.

Hours later, dawn broke on Maryland and with it came the somber realization that once again we were a nation at war. People got up, ate breakfast and went to work or school. Even so, as the day wore on, they found their thoughts again and again drifting to the violent events half a globe away.

Ms. Gomez never got back to sleep that night. Later, at work, the 27-year-old Ellicott City secretary was preoccupied by thoughts of war. "It is very scary, and I have not been able to concentrate," she said.

It was a day of remarkably sweeping emotions, beginning with the near euphoria over the apparently resounding success of the initial U.S. air strikes, followed by dread over early television reports of a possible assault on Israel of Iraqi missiles carrying nerve gas. The night ended finally with the less apocalyptic news that the missiles contained conventional warheads and had inflicted few casualties and drawn no Israeli retaliation.

But those first reports out of Israel drew perhaps the day's strongest reactions.

"It's the most horrible thing I've ever heard," said a clearly distraught Judy Hoffberger, a former officer with the Baltimore Jewish Council.

In Little Italy, news of the Iraqi missile attack against Israel quickly spread among diners who had begun their meals thinking that much of Iraq's missile-launching capacity had been taken out 24 hours earlier.

"Jesus Christ, if Israel gets in it, the allies will be fighting among themselves," said Marion Mugavero, owner of a Little Italy diner who was watching television at the bar at DeNittis'. "I thought we did a sufficient enough job of this yesterday, and this would not happen."

Earlier in the day, throughout the metropolitan area, employers relaxed the usual office decorum to allow the playing of radios and televisions. Jennifer Grimes, a clerk at the Howard County Courthouse, frequently slipped into the file room to listen to the latest radio reports. The night before she had wept when she heard of the war's beginning. "I am trying to keep my mind on work," she said, "but my mind wanders and I think about our men over there and their families here."

Downtown Baltimore bustled as usual, even as the war dominated conversations. Newspaper deliverymen were unable to fill boxes before customers besieged them to buy papers. Construction workers carried radios with them to the job site.

In Bel Air, attorney Robert S. Lynch listened to radio broadcasts most of the day with a mixture of concern for the U.S. soldiers and awe of U.S. military power.

"Listening was like sitting down and watching an hour television program where everything comes together in an hour," said Mr. Lynch. "I was sort of cynical, initially. I kept thinking that it can't be this easy; it can't be this neat and clean."

Also closely monitoring radio news broadcasts was Harford County State's Attorney Joseph I. Cassilly, a Vietnam veteran. Mr. Cassilly said he spent part of the day talking by phone with Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, also a Vietnam veteran.

"Listening to the radio, I couldn't help thinking how very sad and very disappointed I was because I knew what it was like for some of those 19-year-old soldiers over there, but I knew it was the right thing to do," Mr. Cassilly said.

Not all Vietnam veterans felt that way. Stevens Bunker, owner of the China Sea Marine Trading Company in Fells Point, said that when he heard war had started, he dug out his old U.S. Army jacket bearing the button, "Vietnam Veterans against the war."

"I thought I'd have this thing until I was an old man, and I could take it out and parade around in it like a World War I soldier carrying the flag," he said. "I didn't think I'd have to use it this soon."

At Danny's Bar and Restaurant on Charles Street, the "Happy Hour" banner hung over the door as it does every night.

Stuart Dickman, who has worked as a host at Danny's for the past 29 years, was ready for the crowd that usually fills the bar to sip the cheap drinks. And pianist Lenny Williams was making his first appearance.

But last night, the crowds did not come. In fact, for much of the night, no one came.

"They're all glued to their television sets," he said. "This war -- it's a big event."

Mr. Dickman didn't mind. He spent a lot of his time in a back room listening to reports that Iraq had bombed Israel.

He emerged into the empty barroom every so often to announce the latest developments.

A few of Mr. Dickman's customers are in Saudi Arabia. "They had their last drinks in this bar," he said.

Then he got quiet and asked Mr. Williams to play some patriotic music.

It was one of the only requests Mr. Williams had gotten.

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