The return of a survivor WAR IN THE GULF

GULF WAR: A MIXED LEGACY

January 16, 1992|By James Bock

Today, Ed and Barbara Brody regain a son.

A year ago, U.S. Army Lt. Stephen C. Brody, a strapping 24-year-old, was encamped near the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border, and the United States was on the verge of war. The Brodys had to face the possibility that their youngest son could die in the desert.

Steve Brody didn't die. His 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) won two battles and rolled deep into Iraq. Operation Desert Storm "was the single most exciting time of my life, the best experience I've had," he says now.

Lieutenant Brody returned to the United States in April, and gradually life settled back to normal. Today he drives home to Baltimore from Fort Stewart, Ga., with an Army discharge, ready to join his father's truck rental business.

Meanwhile, his parents have put the war behind them.

"It's a year, but it seems like much longer," Barbara Brody said.

Only a year ago, however, the war was at the center of the Brodys' life. They ran a support group for parents in their Guilford living room. It started in November 1990 with a couple of families and grew to 181 members of 115 families living in 58 zip codes.

The support group grew partly out of the Brodys' realization that they were powerless to guide Steve's fate. He could die in the desert, and there was nothing they could do.

Successful people, the Brodys weren't used to losing control. Mr. Brody owns a truck rental firm. Mrs. Brody is a social worker. They live in a Spanish-style villa. They put their three boys through Friends School and the University of Pennsylvania, where Steve was a wrestling champion.

With Steve in the desert and war in the cards, the Brodys felt they needed to know more about Middle East politics.

They also felt strongly that their son and others shouldn't suffer the disdain heaped on some soldiers returning from Vietnam.

Finally, they needed to keep busy.

Parents crowded into the Brodys' living room Sunday afternoons for talks by Pentagon colonels and Johns Hopkins University professors. Then they broke into small discussion groups, each led by a University of Maryland social worker.

The only rule was that the politics of the war would not be discussed. All of the unthinkable scenarios, all of the tough questions eventuallysurfaced.

"How would you identify the remains [of your child] if they were blown up?" Mr. Brody said by way of example. "We dealt with it."

In the end, no one in the support group had to deal with that concern more than hypothetically. All of the group's children survived. The war ended, and the group's March 3 meeting turned into a celebration, with fresh strawberries and champagne.

Ed Brody said the war had transformed him.

"It changes your priorities. Things that disturbed you before -- issues at the office -- aren't that important. It really has given me a different outlook," he said.

In November, the support group held a reunion a year after its firstmeeting. And that was it.

"I felt enough was enough," Mr. Brody said. "This phase was over with."

Looking back, Steve Brody indulges his parents' concerns for his safety.

"They're parents. Parents are going to worry no matter what. You can't tell a mother not to worry when her son's in a war," he said. "I felt pretty safe. I knew we would do well."

He is slow to tell war stories or don a hero's mantle.

"They were really no match for us," he said of the Iraqis. "Most were surrendering pretty quickly. A lot of Iraqi soldiers were walking up with white flags."

But he has no second thoughts about the war.

"Was it worth it? Yeah. I felt then and still do that we went in for the right reasons and we did the right thing," Steve Brody said. "A lot of people say we didn't go far enough because Hussein is still in power. But we accomplished all the goals we set out to do from Day One. If we had gone farther, more innocent people and more Americans would have been killed."

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