When Jean Jones heard yesterday's reports that one or several American women had been taken prisoner in the Persian Gulf war, her anguished, one-word response echoed the fears of many who have a daughter, wife, sister or mother serving in Saudi Arabia.
"She's my only girl, and she's the baby," Mrs. Jones of Severna Park said of her 21-year-old daughter, Lynnette, a private in an Army logistics unit in the gulf.
Mrs. Jones and her husband, Lawrence, also have a 24-year-old son, Lionel, serving in the gulf. They worry about both -- as well as their oldest son, Lawrence Jr., a Marine sergeant in Japan who may ultimately be sent to the gulf -- but admit that Lynnette is of additional concern.
Relatives of American women in the gulf expressed a range of emotions from shock to resignation to even pride over this new turn of events in the war -- the prospect of female POWs.
"I was pretty chilled about it," Ken McDowell, a Bethesda banker whose wife, Denise, is serving in the gulf, said of his reaction to the thought of a female POW.
"I guess I was angered that they would have women that close to the front line, given their supposed non-combatant status," said Mr. McDowell, whose wife is a Navy nurse aboard the USS Comfort. "There are support and staging areas, and I would think there would be a distinction between these areas and the front. At the risk of sounding chauvinistic, [a woman on the front lines] had no business being up in that position. But [My wife] would probably be the first to argue with me that she had as much business up there as any man."
Iris Palmer agreed, even though her last phone call from her daughter and only child was on Jan. 20 from Khafji, the Saudi Arabian town attacked by Iraq on Wednesday and where the woman or women are believed to have been taken prisoner.
"I didn't realize she was that close to the action," Ms. Palmer said of her 27-year-old daughter, Bridget Gatewood. "But since she is with supply, she has to go with the infantrymen."
Ms. Palmer, however, holds out hope that her daughter's unit did leave the area as it planned to the day she called home.
The prospect of female POWs doesn't change her support for her daughter or the war, she said.
"Even if I should lose my daughter, I still believe women should have equal rights in the military," Ms. Palmer said. "She wanted to see action."
The news sent a surge of adrenalin flowing through Roy Novak.
"It was the first I'd heard of anything like that happening to a woman over there," said Mr. Novak, whose wife Bridget is part of the Towson-based 290th Military Police Company, which left for the gulf just after Thanksgiving.
"Every day I feel more and more fearful for her safety," said Mr. Novak, a Reisterstown auto repairman, who said he has no idea where his wife is in Saudi Arabia.
Bonnie Gray, Bridget Novak's mother, felt "horror" at the news of a female POW. "Horrible things go through my mind," she said. "If they beat up on the men, what will they do to the women?"
Navy Cmdr. Joel Frank, who works at the Pentagon and whose wife Melanie is also a nurse on the USS Comfort, reacted fatalistically to the report of a female POW.
"Hey, there's going to be deaths, casualties, POWs," he said. "I'm looking at it favorably, that we've been able to get women over there to the
extent that we have. Women in the military have made great strides because of this operation, and casualties will be women. It's just a fact of life."
Noting that his is probably a minority opinion, Commander Frank added, "I'm all for women in combat. Let's get them into combat and they'll either prove themselves or they won't prove themselves and we'll know once and for all."
But Ruth Short, a Baltimore printer whose daughter Terri Huber is an MP in the gulf, is against the idea of women in combat. "Especially over there," she said, "where women are treated as ++ less than second-class citizens."
"I've been concerned about her safety all along," said Kathleen MacNamara of Silver Spring, whose daughter, Susan Mackie, 25, is with an Army unit in the gulf. "There's always the possibility. If they take men, they'll take women."