Archive for Thursday, January 16, 1992

GULF VETS RECALL EMOTIONS OF THE CALL TO ARMS

January 16, 1992

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Vincent Knowlton was walking in the sand on guard duty a year ago today. He remembers it well.

"We knew something was going on when the planes flew over," he said. "There were about 20 of them and they flew right over about treetop level . . . on their way to Baghdad."

It was Jan. 17, 1991, in Saudi Arabia, still Jan. 16 in Lawrence.

Knowlton and the rest of his Army unit were jolted out of an otherwise uneventful night in the Saudi desert when the planes flew over on the opening air strikes of the Persian Gulf War.

"A lot of people don't think we did anything, but it was real," said Knowlton, a Lawrence resident who is now a sophomore at Johnson County Community College. "I think it was a perfect war from our standpoint."

Meanhile, Ed Almanza, an Army reservist who had returned in October 1990 to his Lawrence insurance business after serving in Operation Desert Shield, was watching television reports of Operation Desert Storm's start at home. He anticipated a call that would take him back to the Mideast.

"THERE WAS just a big lump in my stomach because I knew the war was starting," Almanza said.

"The toughest part was waiting to get the call to come back (into service)," he said. "I knew I would get the call, but the anxiety of waiting was the toughest part."

Almanza was called back a few days after the war began, but he didn't end up going to Saudi Arabia until after most of the fighting was over.

"We didn't know where we were going to go or when we would go," he said. "I just got a call and they said `Pack your bags for a year, you're going someplace warm.'"

Though memorable and intense for many, the war wasn't long, nor were U.S. casualites heavy.

No one from the Lawrence area was killed or injured in the conflict.

In fact, some local veterans said the anniversary of the start of the war doesn't mean much to them.

"The public has forgotten, nobody cares about it any more," said Phil Borders, a KU junior who helped set up the 410th evacuation hospital in January 1991 about 15 miles from the Iraqi border in Saudi Arabia.

Janice Ott, a U.S. Army reservist and Lawrence resident, remembers to start of the war "very well.'' She was in command of the 129th Transportation Company in the Saudi Arabian desert when U.S.-led airstrikes on Iraq.

"WE COULD see lights out of the window and we wondered if it was bombs dropping," she said. "Nobody said anything."

Other servicemen and servicewomen here at home had been scheduled to travel to the region when the air strikes began.

"I remember being real apprehensive when the bombs started dropping," said Virgil Woolridge, an Army captain and staff officer in Kansas University's Army ROTC program. Woolridge had already been scheduled to leave for service in the Mideast when allied warplanes began their air assault. "I thought Saddam Hussein would give in."

Kurt McBride, a sales representative for Medi-Equip, 536 Fireside Ct., a reservist in the 24th Marines Headquarters Co., said he probably won't be reminiscing much today.

"We just didn't go through as much as the guys in the wars before us," he said.

"It seems like we're getting a lot of glory and ink that the Vietnam veterans never got," adding that the gulf war could not be compared to other wars because it was short with few American casualties.

"It's nice being treated like a hero, but we don't feel like heroes," he said. "We just had a job to do and we did it."

BUT KNOWLTON, who took part in the ground battle, said the fighting, though limited, was "a slugfest."

"To me, it was just like a Vietnam, but only for four days," he said.

Knowlton was a medic in the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley. The division played a major role in the 100-hour ground war.

"I think it was a perfect war because the U.S. leaders really did a good job with the planning," he said. "It was risky and it could've been disastrous, but it wasn't."

U.S. forces had fewer than 150 troops killed in action.

No known totals exist on Iraqis killed in action but the number is believed to be in the tens of thousands. More than 60,000 Iraqi prisoners of war were taken.

Although the official goal of the United States and its allies during the war was to get Iraq out of Kuwait, local servicemen and women had mixed opinions on whether the United States went far enough.

IRAQI PRESIDENT Saddam Hussein's army may have been defeated, but the Iraqi president remains in power in Baghdad, and questions about Iraq's nuclear and chemical weapons capability remain.

"Personally, I wish we would've gone into Baghdad," Almanza said. "We were right there and we could've taken care of Saddam. I wish they would've, personally," he said.

However, Ott, who now works in distribution for a shoe manufacturer in Topeka, said the United States acted wisely when it halted the war.

"I think, had we done more, world opinion would've turned against us," she said. "We had no choice."

Woolridge said he thought U.S. forces could have done more to remove Saddam from power, but added that the benefits of a united coalition opposing Iraq may have paid off.

"From what I've seen in the Middle East in the last few months, I think you can attribute that to the war and the alliance," he said, pointing to the release of American hostages from Lebanon and the start of Arab-Israeli peace talks.

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