One man greeted the idea of a woman's being held prisoner of war by Iraqi soldiers with an explosive, "So-damn! So-damn! If he thinks he can take our women, then he's nuts."
The man, who said he was a Baltimore truck driver but declined to give his name, added, "This is really going to p--- us off."
As news spread yesterday of Iraqi claims that their soldiers had taken American women prisoners, men reacted with a mixture of emotions, including resignation, concern and horror.
Many said that women had volunteered for military duty -- and the dangers that come with it.
"If a woman wants philosophically to be there then, unfortunately, I think it comes with the territory. But I'm not happy about it," said Richard Alter, a See MEN, 5E, Col. 1MEN, from 1EBaltimore real estate agent.
Others recoiled from the idea. "I, to this day, wake up with a fear of being a POW -- and I never was," said John Ketwig, author of ". . . and a hard rain fell," a book about his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. "And now here's a woman. What the heck is a woman doing over there?"
Amid continued debate over the role of women in the military, the taking of female POWs will hit a sensitive cultural nerve, said Geoffrey Greif, associate professor of sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park. "It will push a lot of men's buttons in terms of their roles during war time. It will hit men on a lot of different levels."
The threat of female -- and male -- POWs being mistreated could serve to solidify American anger against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, said Don Santos, state supervisor of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and a Vietnam veteran.
"If I was there I'd be real angry, real angry, and the man on my right and the man on my left would be angry," he said. "We would want to pay them ."
"It makes me mad," said Keith Scribner, a General Electric warehouse worker. "I didn't think women should be over there. I didn't think the U.S. should be over there. It'll make me madder. I don't think it's right to do that, not just for women, but to men. But it's worse for women."
Indeed, the issue of women POWs touches a universal nerve, said Baltimore truck driver, Chester Horton. "I don't think you can help but feel bad," he said. "Most of us have sisters, and all of us have mothers."