Civilians swell gulf war roster of medalists

October 23, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has enlarged its ever-swelling roster of Desert Storm heroes by more than 4,000 civilians -- and potentially many more than that.

The list includes comedians Jay Leno, Steve Martin and Bob Hope, and even Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams.

According to an announcement yesterday, medals will be awarded to thousands of civilians for supporting the Persian Gulf war effort. They include entertainers and others who supported troops through the United Service Organizations, Red Cross and civil reserve air fleet, and Defense Department civilians who spent "any time" in the Persian Gulf through April 11.

Officials said this includes Mr. Williams, who toured the region four times with his boss, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, but otherwise spent the war fighting reporters at the Pentagon.

An official familiar with planning the award said that at least 4,000 defense employees would be decorated but that the number of potential non-defense, civilian medal winners was virtually unlimited. Besides the entertainers, including actress Delta Burke and "Major Dad" star Gerald McRaney, those who meet the award criteria will be identified by the USO and other groups, the official said.

"I have no idea how many we're talking about," said the official, who insisted on anonymity. The groups that have been told about the medals "were tickled pink, of course," he said. "They will be contacting people and bestowing them at their own ceremonies."

Mr. Leno, who succeeds Johnny Carson as host of NBC's "Tonight Show" next year, visited troops at 20 remote sites over four days last November, giving impromptu shows from atop tanks and trucks. He later called the families of about 200 soldiers he met there.

"This will embarrass Jay to no end," said his manager, Helen Kushnick.

The new medal, which depicts a shield, a torch and crossed swords with the inscription "Desert Shield/Desert Storm," is affixed to a ribbon. Mr. Cheney approved it "to salute those civilians who made substantial contributions to the success of the operations while enduring many of the same hazards and conditions faced by military personnel," the Pentagon said. It is the first such medal since the Vietnam War.

Officials said yesterday that reporters who covered the war -- and, as some liberal media critics have charged, aided the military's propaganda campaign -- would not be receiving medals.

"You guys were against us," said a smiling public affairs official, who appeared to be only partly joking.

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