Doctor saw two sides of Persian Gulf war Doctor home from the war recalls emotional moments

March 27, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

The ugly side of war -- seeing 14-year-old Iraqi soldiers with both legs blown off -- will stick forever in the mind of Dr. William N. Bernhard, who returned to Baltimore Monday after two months in the Persian Gulf.

But, just as unforgettable, Bernhard said, are the courageous roles of America's young men and women at the front.

"I'm very proud of these young kids -- males and females -- who went over there and did a magnificent job," he said yesterday. "They truly are America's finest.

"For instance, I ran into a Maryland Guardswoman, a young gal who lives in Baltimore, who was guarding the gate into the enemy prisoner-of-war camp at Hafar al Batin [in Saudi Arabia]. This was the camp run by the 301st Military Police Battalion."

Bernhard, 60, is the chief of anesthesiology at the Shock-Trauma Unit in Baltimore. He also is a colonel in the Army Reserves. With the 365th Evac Hospital, he set up a trauma anesthesiology unit in an 1,100-bed military hospital at Seeb International Airport in Muscat, Oman. The hospital was established to care for the allied wounded.

"Fortunately, we never had more than 20 patients, and they were sick with the usual appendectomies and illnesses like that," Bernhard said.

The hospital was part of an aerial refueling wing and together they were known as the Military Medical Complex of Oman. Medical support facilities, planes and supplies also were positioned in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

As a crew member on aerial refueling missions out of Oman, the trauma specialist had the opportunity to see most of the theater of operations.

He stressed that credit has to go to America's younger generation that went to the battle zones. "These kids -- many of them in their 20s -- have represented us well," he said. "There is no doubt about it, they did a fantastic job. We had some losses. Fortunately, they were small. But, even one is one too many."

Bernhard also was assigned to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to brief various commanders on medical evacuation techniques. While there, he found himself in the midst of a Scud attack.

"We had to put on our gas masks, gloves and helmets and go into a bunker," he recalled.

Probably the most interesting and challenging thing he did in the gulf, he said, occurred when he was attached to the 800th Military Police Brigade and became involved in the care of captured Iraqi Army and Republican Guard troops at Hafar al Batin.

Bernhard, who has served with the Marines, the Navy and the Army during Vietnam and other conflicts, saw the 14-year-old Iraqis at the U.S. evacuation hospital in King Khalid Military City, just south of Hafar al Batin.

There, he worked with Iraqi physicians, taking care of dehydrated, malnourished prisoners.

"I was surprised at how poorly nourished and how poorly clothed the Iraqis were and at their general physical condition," Bernhard said. "One day, I saw 191. Another day, it was 171. Then I worked the clinic. We sent the badly injured directly to U.S. military hospitals.

"The Iraqi soldiers were beaten -- thoroughly militarily defeated -- and were showing the results of massive bombardments. I have never seen so many ruptured eardrums in all my life. Many of them lost their hearing. When you've had that many bombs dropped on you, you're lucky to be alive."

Many of the prisoners did not want to leave because they feared FTC for their lives and the lives of their families, Bernhard said.

Other memorable events for Bernhard were the welcomes he received in the gulf and at home. Of Hafar al Batin, he said. "The reception there was unbelievable. The kids would crowd around the car when they saw you were American military. Everything was 'V' for victory and they would hold their fingers up. It was just a tremendous experience.

"Every Saudi -- if you walked out to get a ride any place -- would stop and say: What can we do for you? Would you like a glass of tea? Where can we take you? The Saudis were probably almost as grateful for what we had done as the reception we received coming back to the United States."

In Havre de Grace, he said, there was one big tree "just filled with yellow ribbons" and another "with hundreds of American flags waving in the breeze." Bernhard said that when he stopped at a restaurant, he wasn't allowed to pay for anything.

"This was all very heart-warming," he said. "It certainly is a better and a more appreciative country that we are returning to than it was after Vietnam."

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