Family Awaits Son's Belated Return From Gulf

July 15, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

In Edward and Margaret Johns' front yard, yellow ribbons still fly for a son whose patriotism has gone largely unnoticed by everyone but them.

A candle, lighted the day 44-year-old Pasadena native Edward"Eddie" Johns Jr. left for the Persian Gulf, still burns in the living room. "I'm not blowing it out 'til he gets home," Margaret Johns says.

While Desert Storm's combat troops have enjoyed homecomings, parades and special Fourth of July celebrations, Reserve Chief War- rant Officer Eddie Johns has sweltered under the Saudi Arabian sun, working long, back-breaking days as the U.S. Army's harbormaster in the port of Dammam.

Johns supervises hundreds of huge ships navigating inand out of the port, sometimes piloting them to their berths. He andothers assigned totransportation duties unpacked vast amounts of ammunition, military hardware, armored cars and tanks in the tense weeksbefore Operation Desert Storm. As soon as the war ended, they faced the equally mammoth task of sending all the equipment back to the United States.

As far as going home was concerned, all they got to dowas watch. The parades and postwar hoopla were for the combat troops, not for them.

Johns' family says it feels like he's been cheated. The war contribution of those men and women who worked behind

the lines has been undervalued, they say.

"We feel like they've beenleft out. They're the stepchildren," said Johns' sister, Margie Rizzo of Pasadena. She wears a button saying, "Til They All Come Home."

Rizzo, who owns Pastore's restaurant, said hundreds of her customers signed banners to be sent to the troops -- until the war ended. "After the war ended, nobody would sign it," she said.

The Johns' church, St. Jane Frances Catholic Church in Riviera Beach, published names of all local people assigned to the gulf in its newsletter -- until the war ended. "What the priest said when we asked was that all thetroops were out now," Edward Johns Sr. said. "Mrs. Johns raised hellabout it," and the names went back in the bulletin.

"The ground war lasted just four days, and it took six months to build up the logistics to fight the ground war. It's taken close to six months to get (the equipment) out," the elder Johns said. "God bless all the boys who were there (at the July 4 celebrations). But I wish my son had been there."

In an interview with Washington Post reporter Caryle Murphy, who covered the gulf war, Eddie Johns made it plain that most support troops share the feeling that they have been forgotten.

"Thecombat types, they always get the parades," Johns said. "The killer is that this was a logistical war. . . . The logisticians won this war. . . . You couldn't drop a bomb if we didn't get 'em there."

Andthough their mission was less glorious than that of the combat troops who flew the fighter planes and led the ground attack, it was no less dangerous. The 28 men and women who died in a single Scud attack were all transportation workers stationed in the building next to Johns'.

"He saw it at a distance and could see it was going to hit that building," Edward Johns Sr. said.

"He was terrified," his sistersaid, adding that the threat of terrorist attacks has been a worry from the beginning.

Johns, who graduated from Glen Burnie High School along with his wife, Donna, resides in San Antonio. He has been involved with the shipping industry all his life, a fact that profoundly influenced his experience in both the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.

As a teen-ager, he worked summers as a crewman with the MerchantMarine, traveling twice to South America.

After high school, he worked on the Port Welcome cruise ship in Baltimore before earning a license from the U.S. Coast Guard to operate ships.

He was drafted in 1968 and was stationed on the West Coast, where he directed cargo ships to and from the war effort in Southeast Asia. When he came hometo Baltimore at age 25, Johns got a license to captain tugboats. He subsequently worked for the Curtis Bay Towing Co. and for Exxon. At one point, his parents say, he was the youngest captain working in theport of Baltimore.

After the Vietnam War, Johns joined the Army Reserve. Like many other reservists, he was shocked when he was calledto active duty last summer.

"He's very patriotic," Rizzi says. "But he was very upset his life stopped. Now he wants to get on with itagain."

Last week, the Johns got a letter from Eddie.

"Well, it's almost July and I am still here," he wrote. "It was a bigger job than anyone expected. Most of the unit equipment will be out by mid- to late July. That should do it for us, I hope."

Everyone in the Johns family plans to meet him at Fort Eustis in Virginia when he finally does come home. That will be their parade.

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