Wife and mother of gulf soldiers feels fear, faith in equal measures WAR IN THE GULF

February 27, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Sun Staff Correspondent

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- When peace finally comes to the Persian Gulf, it will come, too, to Dale Flett.

"For the past six months, I've run on fear and faith," said the 40-year-old Mrs. Flett, whose husband and son are Army paratroopers in the combat zone. "I try not to let the fear overrun the faith."

Yesterday, fear and faith were running dead even.

"I want to believe in peace," said Mrs. Flett, reeling from reports of an on-again, off-again peace. "But I'm afraid to believe."

More than 30,000 troops from nearby Fort Bragg are in the Persian Gulf, and yesterday many in this military community did flips over what sounded like peace, looked like peace but -- in the end -- wasn't.

The Fort Bragg Family Assistance Center received more than 250 telephone calls after reports surfaced of an Iraqi decision to withdraw from Kuwait.

"Wives are calling wanting to know why the president doesn't accept Saddam's offer," said center manager Arlene Thorne, whose husband is in the gulf. "Some of the wives are really desperate right now.

"For myself, I won't believe the war is over till I see my husband walk in the door."

At 7:30 a.m. yesterday, reacting to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's order that Iraqi troops withdraw from Kuwait, a hopeful Mrs. Flett said, "I'm excited. I want to believe. This is my only child -- and my husband."

By afternoon, as the war pressed on, a deflated Mrs. Flett said, "I'm scared. I'm frightened. You get so built up, only to be let down."

Since Master Sgt. Richard Flett, 42, and 23-year-old Spc. Jeffery Flett left for Saudi Arabia in mid-August, this wife and mother has sought solace in her work as a receptionist in a Fayetteville medical clinic and in the friendship of other Army wives.

One of those Army wives is daughter-in-law Michele Flett, 22, who lives here with 8-month-old Sydney.

Mrs. Flett is not a stranger to Army life: Her late father was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division -- legendary for its World War II jump in the invasion of France -- just as her husband and son are now.

Paratroopers from the 82nd ("82nd ABN: Death From Above," says one popular T-shirt sold here) were among the first soldiers to enter Kuwait during the early hours of the ground war last weekend.

"I lay in bed at night wondering," said Mrs. Flett, who wears a bracelet inscribed with the names of her husband and son, and the dates they departed for the gulf. "I wonder what's going through their minds. I know they worry about each other, and I worry about them worrying.

"God forbid if anything happens -- the effect it would have on them if anything happened to the other. If nothing else, war certainly makes you appreciate life -- and all the moments in it -- a lot more."

It wasn't until Saturday night, when the ground action began, that Mrs. Flett says she first became frightened. In the hours since, she has watched videotapes her husband and son have sent from Saudi Arabia, pored over photographs and listened to cassettes they've made, not so much for their message but to hear the sounds of their voices.

" 'Hi, Mom.' Or 'Hi, babe.' I find a lot of relief in those words," said Mrs. Flett, who has lost 22 pounds since the two men she calls "my boys" were deployed.

On Monday night, for the first time since August and with the promise of peace at hand, Mrs. Flett turned off the television before she went to sleep. Until then, she had gone to sleep to TV news, and awakened to it.

Last night, the TV was on again -- all night long.

"What if I miss something? A tidbit that could be so important for me to hear?" she said. "What if there really is peace? What if I missed the moment when it truly is over?"

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