Finksburg Resident Gets Privileged View Of Peace Talks

Nbc Radio News Correspondent A Witness To War And Peace In The Persian Gulf

Conflict

July 14, 1991|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff writer

FINKSBURG — Minutes after Joseph P. Walsh Jr. arrived in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, he was phoning his wife at his home here.

He had arrived safely, but his luggage was lost.

Could she make a quick shopping trip?

Deborah Walsh raced out of their Miller Drive home on a crash shopping spree. With freshly packed suitcases in tow, she --ed to Washington, D.C., and gave her husband's new clothes to another Persian Gulf-bound colleague.

The lost luggage never materialized, but changes of clothing were the leastof Walsh's problems as he plunged into a round-the-clock job: covering the war and later the peace as a correspondent for Mutual NBC Radio.

Listeners at 1,500 NBC-affiliate stations across the United States heard daily bulletins, which ended with, "This is Joe Walsh reporting from Operation Desert Storm."

During an interview at his homerecently, Walsh said several war scenes from the experience remain in his memory but none as vivid as the announcement of peace.

The 48-year-old radio reporter, whose beat is at the Pentagon, was one of a few media members invited to the peace talks in Safwan, Iraq, in early March.

Walsh and his colleagues stepped off their helicopters in Safwan and entered a stark desert scene -- no buildings, no power lines, no control tower.

Just a narrow abandoned runway stretchingabout a mile to a few U.S. Army tents.

Loaded with broadcasting equipment, the journalists walked down the blacktop to wait outside the tents.

"Mines were an ever-present danger," he said.

"The military warned us not to stray more than 20 feet off the road."

In an atmosphere "straight out of a war movie," tanks ringed the entire perimeter as armed military outposts stood guard on the surrounding sandy hilltops.

A massive air escort accompanied the arrival of Gen.H. Norman Schwarzkopf.

Soldiers and the press engulfed him, battering him with many questions.

"What are you going to discuss with the Iraqis?" a reporter asked.

Walsh said the general never hesitated before replying.

"We are not going to discuss anything," Schwarzkopf said. "We are going to tell them what they have to do."

Thegeneral and Saudi Prince Khalid ibn Sultan, leader of the Arab forces, entered the tents to meet with three Iraqi military representatives.

"You could have cut the air with a knife as Schwarzkopf stared down the Iraqis," Walsh said, describing the tension-filled talks.

The general took few breaks from the closed-session talks. His sternexpression didn't change into the familiar grin until the Iraqis were escorted from the area and he announced a cease-fire, Walsh said.

The grin and the sighs of relief at the war's end were contagious, Walsh said.

"As a reporter, I wanted to be there and felt fortunate to cover such a historic event as Desert Storm and the peace talks," he said. "Although war is a great reporting experience, you have torealize it is a sad, unpleasant event during which people die."

Although Desert Storm marked his first experience with combat reporting, Walsh has been involved in radio news since his student days at Emerson College in Boston.

At the the start of the air war, he said,the military's rigid guidelines on coverage severely hampered reporting. Following the Pentagon's rules, all news had to be filtered through the Joint Information Bureau.

"Women reporters had an especially difficult time doing their job," he said. "They were not allowed to drive, and many Saudis refused to speak to them."

With more than2,000 media members converging on the gulf, coverage was tough, he said.

"Everyone was after the story," he said. "The military wantedto prevent the enemy from getting any beneficial information from those stories."

It was difficult to balance that strategy with the public's right to know about developments in the war, he said.

Walsh said he was fortunate when he landed an assignment in a press pool that worked on Navy ships. As long as the ship had no priority messages, he was able to use its satellite phone to relay his reports. All information had to be shared with colleagues back in Dharan.

From aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway, he saw the planes leaving on bombing and reconnaissance runs. He was on board the carrier the day the ground war began.

"It was amazing to see the bombing power theU.S. had," he said. "The bombs were made and stockpiled so fast, theenlisted men were sharing mess halls with (unarmed) bombs."

When he was on land in Dharan, Walsh and his colleagues faced the constantthreat of Scud missile attacks.

"We'd be up in the middle of the night, scurrying to air raid shelters and filing reports when it was all over."

He said he didn't feel as much danger while aboard the carriers, calling the ships well-protected minicities.

"I got to know the pilots and heard their stories firsthand," he said. "They described many scenes of destruction."

Once the bombing stopped, the pilots flew Walsh over many of those scenes, giving him an aerial view of the destruction. The road north, used by Iraqi troops fleeing from Kuwait City, was like nothing he had ever seen.

"The Iraqi tanks and trucks, laden with loot, ignored our pilots' repeated warnings to disperse and surrender," he said. "Our planes finally had to take action."

On several trips into Kuwait after the liberation, he saw"nothing but devastation."

"The entire city was an armed fortress," he said. "Nearly all the windows were blocked in, with only slots for machine guns."

A few days following Safwan, Walsh put his remote equipment away and boarded a plane for home. He spent a week unwinding before he returned to his Pentagon job.

He would like to makea peacetime trip back to the gulf, he said.

His new Arab friends,especially one clerk who spent hours on a fruitless luggage search, said they want to show him the sights, other than bomb shelters, airports and ships.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.