Pa. steel town happily learns its troops are OK WAR IN THE GULF

ON THE HOME FRONT

February 27, 1991|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Correspondent

FARRELL, Pa. -- When Ann Wilson heard that her daughter's Army Reserve unit in Saudi Arabia might have been hit by an Iraqi Scud missile, she feared the worst.

"I was a mess last night. I didn't know whether I would make it or not," she said.

But yesterday Mrs. Wilson and the rest of this western Pennsylvania steel town relaxed, after learning that Farrell's 84-member 475th Quartermaster Group had apparently escaped Monday night's attack near Dhahran without fatalities.

The missile killed 28 U.S. soldiers.

"To the best of our knowledge right now, there was nobody," said Mayor Eugene C. Pacsi. "Everyone is safe and accounted for. It's a heck of a relief."

The Shenango Valley town of 6,840, which sits midway between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, a mile from the Ohio border, went about its daily business yesterday amid snow flurries.

Some 2,800 workers punched clocks at the Sharon Steel mill, the town's major employer, and students at Farrell Area High School tried to focus on their classes and the basketball playoffs.

Principal Russell Phillips said that "there was a lot of anxiety around school," with students gathering in clusters to share the latest news. But a morning public address announcement that the 475th was safe eased fears, he said.

Relatives of reservists began getting calls from their loved ones in Saudi Arabia on Monday evening, assuring them that no one had been killed or seriously hurt. The 475th, which handles distribution of water and oil, was sent to Saudi Arabia in October.

Josephine Ion, whose husband, Eugene, is a staff sergeant with the 475th, said that based on phone calls she was "assuming everything is all right," although "we haven't had any kind of official information."

Lt. Col. Paul Rots, a spokesman for the 99th Army Reserve Command in Pittsburgh, said he knew of no deaths in the 475th, although at least two soldiers from other units in western Pennsylvania were killed in the attack.

Brian Estock, 18, said he got word that his father, Paul, a sixth-grade math teacher, was safe before he heard that the Farrell-based unit had supposedly been hit.

"He said he was fine and that everyone in the group was accounted for, but some were injured and in the hospital," the college student said. "We even saw him on CNN last night, helping out, taking people to the hospital. My mom was on the phone all night long. It was just crazy."

Patricia Jefferson, a cook at Post 7597 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said that her brother, Spc. Darrell Ross, had called to say "he was fine but hurt his leg and arm."

"I'm still not at ease because I don't know how hurt he is," she said.

Two other VFW members were also reported safe, but Stan Brown, the junior vice commander at the post, said: "It's a little relief, but until we hear all the particulars, the hardest thing is waiting."

Ella Ward, whose husband, Roy, is a staff sergeant with the 475th, said that he "just said he was all right. He sounded kind of let down, angry or sad or something like that. He didn't sound exactly like himself."

By midafternoon, Farrell was returning to normal.

"This morning the phone didn't stop ringing, and now it's dead," said Nadine Shimshock, a secretary at City Hall.

And Mayor Pacsi headed out the door for an important engagement in nearby Oil City -- a basketball playoff game.

"In Pennsylvania, we're a basketball town. Seven state basketball championships," he said.

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