We Didn't Believe The War Was Over WAR IN THE GULF

A LETTER FROM ELLICOTT CITY

March 03, 1991|By CAROL FREY

A funny thing happened to me Wednesday night, as it apparently did to many other people with relatives involved in the gulf conflict. We had wanted to believe for so long everything would work out that when President Bush announced the fighting was over, we didn't believe it.

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf had said earlier in the day that the Iraqis were still fighting "a classic tank battle" with allied troops north of Kuwait City. How could George Bush say it's over until it's over? I thought.

As I read, watched and listened to the news reports that night and the following morning, relief began to take the place of the foreboding I had carried around with me since Aug. 2 when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait and raced for the border of Saudi Arabia.

And I was struck by how much of the unfolding story my husband, the Army reservist, had predicted all along.

Having trained in Egypt and the Mojave Desert of California himself, Ed had said many times that the United States was well prepared for a war in the Middle East, that we had a good plan for such a conflict and that we had followed it by the book since the president ordered troops to Saudi Arabia on Aug. 7.

For me, the military represented those wonderful people who brought us Vietnam.

Ed joined Operation Desert Shield in December, and for his safety I wanted to believe that our leaders knew what they were doing, but mostly I hoped diplomacy would resolve matters. In my darkest moments, I took comfort in the fact that his job was to help restore a vanquished country's civil services, such as police and fire protection -- a job that couldn't begin until Kuwait was in friendly hands again.

Usually once during each of his phone calls after the war began, Ed would say not to worry; the military commanders have a good plan and they're being given all the freedom they need to execute it. But he could never provide enough details to be thoroughly convincing, and the Scuds continued falling out of the sky.

On Sunday morning following the start of the ground war, Ed called from Riyadh again and said less than usual, although he said the battle was going very well and casualties were light. He didn't think it would take much longer to run Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait.

Meantime, news reports marveled at the speed of the allied assault and mass surrenders of Iraqi soldiers.

I was relaxing in the living room of friends when one of the television networks broadcast word of a Scud missile attack on a barracks for U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

No. It couldn't be the "apartment complex" outside Riyadh where my husband is staying, I thought. We all sat silently glued to the set for what seemed like an hour until the network ran a map showing the location of the ill-fated barracks outside Dhahran, not Riyadh. Then we talked about how the families of those men must be feeling.

On Wednesday, Gen. Schwarzkopf described the finish and that mysterious battle plan my husband had so much confidence in. It had gone like clockwork, the general said, but still he spoke of fighting.

After President Bush's address, the phone began to ring with friends calling to share our relief that the war was ending. They were intelligent people, and they believed the war was over, so I allowed myself believe it a bit, too.

Around noon Thursday, Ed called from the war room at Central Command in Riyadh and offered an educated guess that the work of his unit could be finished in a month. He could be headed back to the States soon afterward.

The joy I felt was palpable enough I could have cradled it in my arms. Tension fled the muscles of my shoulders. I was laughing, really laughing again. Tears came to my eyes -- the kind that come with a lump in your throat at the endings of happy movies like "It's a Wonderful Life."

All day long I relished my private joy. It was only the television pictures of jubilant Kuwaitis I cared to watch, not those of burning oil wells or POWs with arms raised skyward.

I day dreamed about Ed coming home for our daughter's fifth birthday party in April, as he had promised her before Christmas. I always thought he'd have to explain away that promise.

But as has happened so often since last August, emotions that go up can fall down before the day is through. A friend called the newsroom to tell me he had seen a television report that all members of Ed's 352nd Civil Affairs Unit (based in Riverdale) would be heading for Kuwait.

I'll go to sleep wondering where he is and how accurate his prediction of finishing over there within a month might be, but the sleep wasn't fitful.

Like most Americans, however, I have a new confidence in the reassurances of our military.

And it seems clear the shooting is over.

Carol Frey is regional affairs editor of The Sun.

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