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Archive for Thursday, January 16, 1992

FAMILIES RECALL THEIR WAR FEARS

January 16, 1992

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A year ago, Lawrence resident Harold Piehler was a worried father.

His daughter, Rachel, was serving with U.S. forces in the gulf when U.S.-led airstrikes were launched against Iraq.

Rachel Piehler is safely back in Germany, and as Piehler now looks back on the gulf war, he says he still has conflicting emotions.

"I have quite a few thoughts and they are rather mixed," he said. "I didn't know what to expect. It was one of the most difficult experiences because as a father, I was worried about my daughter's life."

THE FAMILIES of many Persian Gulf war veterans were home a year ago, nervously watching television news reports of the start of the war.

But some, reflecting on the first anniversary of the start of the war, said they did a lot of worrying for nothing.

"It was kind of a happy letdown," said Earl Stafford, whose son, Keith, served in Saudi Arabia. "We were really looking for something terrible to happen and it didn't."

Stafford and other relatives of Gulf War veterans said they were surprised that the war was over so fast, and was so one-sided.

"You'd think there was going to be something, but there really wasn't," Stafford said of U.S. losses. "Either we were terribly powerful or they weren't," he said.

Thousands of Iraqi troops and civilians died in the conflict. U.S. troops killed in action numbered less than 150, according to the Pentagon.

No servicemen or servicewomen from Lawrence were killed.

Mary Lou Almanza, whose husband, Ed, served with an Army Reserve medical supply unit, said the hardest part for her was not knowing where her husband was.

"We didn't know where he was going to end up," she said. Almanza was stationed in several locations in the United States, Europe and Saudi Arabia during and after the conflict.

"I'M JUST glad it's over," said Herbert Harmon, a Vietnam veteran whose son, Zachary, saw action with the Marines in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

The elder Harmon said the long-term effects of the Persian Gulf war are yet to be determined in the minds of many Americans.

But he compares the short-term impact of the war to the experience of watching an intense television show.

"It was a media event a prime-time extravaganza," he said. "It was so intense for a few months there and then all of a sudden it was over. I think even a year after it's over, it's like a dream to some people."

Harmon and several other local residents interviewed said they think allied forces should have pressed on and made sure Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was removed from power.

"Things are status quo in Iraq," Harmon said. "He's (Hussein) still annihilating the Kurds and the Shiites. "I don't think we've really gained a whole lot in the long run," he said.

"IF GETTING him (Hussein) out of Kuwait was our objective, we did a good job, but his removal should have been the ultimate objective," Mr. Stafford said.

Still, the families of veterans said they were glad their relatives are home this year and not in Iraq.

"I'm glad to see our boys come home," said George O'Brien, whose son, George Jr., served in Saudi Arabia. "Of course for those people back in Iraq, they're back off the way they were before," he said.

Harmon said his perception of the Iraqis has changed since the war.

"The way we portrayed the Iraqis, they were these bloodthirsty guys with a big army," he said. "Then when you see them down on their knees kissing the hands of American soldiers, it kind of makes you feel something for them."

Amber Almanza, a 19-year-old Kansas University sophomore, said she was against the war even though her father, Ed Almanza, was serving with U.S. forces.

"THERE'S nothing wrong with being against the war and hoping the guys are OK," she said. "I just think it would've been better if there would have been no war at all," she said.

O'Brien said he was impressed by the support for the troops exhibited by Lawrence residents last year.

"I think it was excellent, I was glad to see it," he said.

Piehler, who took part in several local family support meetings during the war, said he received emotional support from both friends and strangers in the community.

"I guess one of the best things to come out of it, besides my daughter's safety, is all the people in the community who offered support," he said.

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