For Marylanders, life goes on despite war WAR IN THE GULF

February 25, 1991|By David Simon

As American ground troops battled for a stretch of foreign soil more than 6,000 miles away, many Marylanders simply went about their business yesterday, running familiar errands to familiar places in the fashion of so many other Sundays.

But little about this Sunday seemed familiar.

"Life goes on," said Lawrence Merrill, as he picked out fish fillets at the seafood counter of the Rotunda Giant supermarket in North Baltimore. "But there is this surreal, other-worldly quality to it . . . It's a feeling we hardly knew in our lives and now, it shows in our faces."

An attorney and Ednor Gardens resident, Mr. Merrill, 52, said he had no relatives serving in the Persian Gulf but nonetheless had been opposed to a shooting war, feeling that economic sanctions might have worked.

"But now, the more we hear about atrocities that this man [Saddam Hussein] is committing or said to be committing, it's not clear that sanctions would have been enough."

All over central Maryland, the routine events of another weekend day seemed to conflict with the war news seeping from every car radio and bar television set.

At Bennigan's restaurant in Security Square, diners and employees gathered in front of a television screen as network reports showed videotape of Iraqi soldiers surrendering to allied forces.

And yet the sound from the television struggled to compete with a nearby jukebox blaring Paula Abdul records.

"Whenever they're showing it on the TV, a lot of people get up to watch," said Tony DiPaolo, a 30-year-old Columbia resident and general manager of the restaurant. "Other than that it's been an ordinary day."

At the White Flint shopping mall in Rockville, stores opened at noon to the usual number of Sunday shoppers: "It doesn't seem any different," said Mark Kovach, 22, assistant manager of the Game Boutique. "I haven't heard a word about the war."

But others in the mall said the beginning of the ground war in Kuwait and Iraq was a constant, if unspoken, concern in their minds. "I was up at five and first heard about it when I turned on the television," said Richard Jefferson, a 43-year-old association administrator, as he browsed in a White Flint bookstore. "It feels so different to think,'We're at war.' But you've got to go on."

Mr. Jefferson said he began flying the flag at his Silver Spring home yesterday morning, adding, "There's not much else you can do. What's important is to get our people back home safely and successfully."

"I was just talking with some of my co-workers," said Peggy Evans, a 37-year-old nurse from Silver Spring who stopped at Laurel Mall's Montgomery Ward to look for a birthday gift yesterday, "and we were saying that it's as if you're always depressed and you don't know why. But you've still got to get through the day."

Edna Thomas, 62, of Catonsville agreed with that as she arrived at Sears in Security Square to buy an electric blanket.

And yet, she said, the instantaneous television and radio coverage of the war gave everyday life a different feeling: "It's right there in front of you. As soon as something happens, you're hearing about it. There's no getting used to it."

"I was up half the night [watching television], educating myself about how they get through the minefields and other things like that," said Jackie Weir, a 35-year-old baker from Columbia.

Shopping at the Hechinger store on Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia, Ms. Weir agreed that it seemed strange to be dealing with life's mundane concerns when a war was unfolding elsewhere, but added: "It's on everyone's mind. I just hope it will be quick."

Ms. Weir has two cousins serving with the Navy in the gulf, and three brothers who are all Vietnam veterans.

One brother was held as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese for nine months, she said.

"That the reason that I've been very involved in the effort to support the troops. I feel strongly about that," she said.

"I've been going to the rallies." Yesterday, however, she was searching for a length of chain for her dog.

"What else can you do? Tragedies can happen even without a war and you still have to go on," she said.

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