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Saki

Memories of the Persian Gulf War, 14 Years Later


Last updated February 24, 2005

 

 

 

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A few weeks ago, I was asked to give an oral interview to the son of a friend. This young man, a middle school student, chose to interview me because of my participation in the Persian Gulf War back in 1991. He asked a few questions and I spouted off memories as if they were yesterday, hardly taking a breath between sentences. I was quite surprised as to how much I remembered so I decided that perhaps it was time to put things in writing.

I had only been in my platoon for about 3 months after coming off 2 long years of Sea Duty. God how I hated that tour. As a corporal in an 81mm mortar platoon, I had much to learn and little time to learn it. Still, I seemed to have earned more respect than some of the other non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who recently came off Sea Duty or Barracks Duty. My positive attitude, eagerness to learn, and willingness to train made up, at least somewhat, for the fact that I hadn't fired a mortar in two years.

Most people hated Camp Lejeune. It was swampy, hot and humid in the summer, far from any big cities, and had very few women. I heard that in the closest town, Jacksonville, North Carolina, the ratio of men to women was 8 to 1. But the way I figured, it was still better than Sea Duty.

Many of our most experienced Marines who had completed their enlistment were called back once Desert Shield began. Needless to say, they weren't too happy about that. I, however, welcomed their knowledge. A few had negative attitudes about being involuntarily extended but most got over it quickly. They realized they had a job to do and do it well they would. With all those Marines called back, our platoon had over 80 people and looked more like a small company.

My role in the war was to serve on the gun line. But if a forward observer became a casualty, I was to be his replacement. The forward observers were attached to the line companies. They stayed fairly close to the front and told the mortar platoon where to shoot via radio. A well trained forward observer can inflict quite a bit of damage on the enemy and thus are often targeted by enemy snipers. I was much more worried about doing a good job than becoming a casualty.

Three of us in my platoon, including myself, took our preparation for the war quite seriously. In the desert, we knew we'd be able to see the enemy from far away so having any optical advantage could help considerably. Hence, we bought rifle scopes, scope mounts, and cheek rests. Black rifles in a desert just didn't seem right (or color coordinated) so I laid out white athletic tape and spray painted it desert colors. I figured that since athletic tape needs to stick to skin which sweats, it would probably work in the desert where the quick change in temperature could leave dew on a rifle. I also plugged up the vents on my jungle boots with Bondo to keep the sand out. Desert boots were not yet part of the supply system. As long as we were still at Camp Lejeune, preparation and training was all we could do.

When we weren't preparing or training, we were living it up. Knowing that we might be away from the comforts of home for a long time, we toured the various cheap bars in the Jacksonville area. Even though I didn't and still don't drink, I had a great time nonetheless. Getting off base was always refreshing and being in good company made it all the better. Most importantly, we were building strong social bonds that would help us get through the rough times.

We left the states on a 747. No military transports for us. Apparently, there were so many troops being deployed, civilian aircraft were being called upon to help in the war effort. The mood was typical for a Marine unit. Lots of joking around. I remember my platoon-mates mimicking Hans and Frans calling each other "girlie men" and me having no idea what they were talking about since I hadn't seen Saturday Night Live in years.

Our plane landed in Saudi Arabia on December 18, 1990. We took buses to our first site, Al Jubail, Camp 15. This was known as "Tent City." We lived in large squad sized tents set on concrete slabs. Wooden outhouses with screens lined the perimeter of the camp. The chow hall was outdoors and was a "standing only" facility. Still, it provided hot meals. Shaving facilities consisted of a bowl on a table with a mirror. A small post exchange (PX) was about a 20 minute walk. It was a very small PX, yet I remember a friend buying a terrific bootleg "Best of Van Halen" cassette. Not the Sammy Hagar crap either; 100% David Lee Roth.

I remember a bugler playing Christmas songs on December 25. Some jokingly said they wanted to kick his ass for making them homesick but I think we were all a little glad to have the music, even if he was at times off-key. Our battalion commander looked like a blend of Homer Simpson and the Grinch. Hence, in December, he was known as "the Grinch who stole Christmas."

I saw quite a few familiar faces from earlier days of training. I remember one fellow in particular. His name was Riyadh (just like the capital of Saudi Arabia). He was one of the top graduates from School of Infantry (SOI), a good boxer, and a very likable fellow. Fair skinned and blonde, nobody expected that he was born in Lebanon and had served in the Lebanese Army. He spoke like Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman's character from the hit series "Taxi"). Riyadh served as a sniper, got to go to messenger school (where they ride around on dirt bikes), and eventually got attached to an intelligence unit because he was fluent in Arabic. Quite an interesting guy. I hope he made the Marines a career.

From December 31, 1990 to January 17, 1991, we lived in the "Rock Quarry." Quite literally, this was a rock quarry. Things actually got fun for awhile. We were away from Tent City and all the brass. Since I was with Gun 8, we (and Gun 1) were as far from the platoon commander and platoon sergeant as possible. They stayed at the middle of the platoon and Gun 8 was on the left flank. Hence, we got away with more than those under closer scrutiny. We spent the first couple of days getting our gun pit set up and the camouflage netting put overhead. Then we played hackysack. We took out part of the Humvee we didn't need, ran over it a few times to bend one side up, tied some parachute cord to it and went sledding down the biggest rock pile in the quarry which was about 3 stories high. We did that for about 10 minutes before the platoon sergeant had a fit.

Outdoor showers were set up. These were just overhead containers with water that would get refilled once in awhile. To take a shower, you just stood under it and pulled a string. However, with the weather being what it was, taking a shower was the last thing on our minds. It was bitter cold. Then it started raining. It rained for 4 days straight. It was never a downpour but rather a light continuous sprinkle. Just enough to keep things soaked and make you miserable. It wouldn't have been so bad had we prepared for it but who would have expected near freezing temperatures and rain in Saudi Arabia? We heard later that they had an unusual winter that year.

After about a week at the rock quarry, we drove to a location closer to the Kuwaiti border. We would dig in for the first couple of days, do some training, and find things to keep us entertained when we weren't training. Hackysack, volleyball, and frisbee were popular. I would carve drawings on the sides of the trenches and keep things neat and organized. We shared books, magazines, and food. When we received a package, we'd put any food we received in a box which we shared with the entire squad. We called it our "Communist Box."

A resupply truck came by once every two weeks at first. We could buy razors, soap, toothpaste, chewing tobacco, and cigarettes. Out of 8 people, 6 in my squad smoked and 2 chewed tobacco. Only me and one other did neither. Some people who had quit smoking started up again during the war. They blamed it on the boredom. The smokers in my squad all pitched in lots of money and bought an MRE case full of Marlboro reds. Our squad leader knew we couldn't count on resupply to be regular so he encouraged the smokers to stock up. Sure enough, the resupply truck came by a couple of weeks, later then less and less frequently, especially as we got closer to the front. Most of our paychecks were being put into direct deposit but some was paid to us in cash every two weeks so we could buy supplies. But with nothing to buy, money lost its worth. To the smokers, cigarettes were more valuable than money and compared to other squads, my squad was rich. My squad also had more than its share of married men and hence, we received many care packages. The care packages sent to "any Marine" didn't reach us until much later since we were out in the field. The pogues in the rear were getting those goodies.

About every week, we'd get moved closer to the Kuwaiti border and sometimes lose a little comfort (like the outdoor showers) along the way. Not sure if the command really had plans or if they just wanted to keep us busy. Sometimes, a less experienced unit (such as a reservist unit) would take our position once we were gone. I'm sure they appreciated the well dug trenches we left for them.

Before we left a position, we'd sometimes gather up and burn unneeded items. This wasn't just to be tidy; it was to prevent the Iraqis from using our equipment in case the position fell into enemy hands. There are countless occurrences of the enemy using American equipment to their advantage, such as to help create booby traps. We had no desire for us or our fellow Marines to be the booby. Hence, my platoon put our junk in a big hole, poured gasoline on it, and lit it on fire. We all stood around and watched as the fire just withered away. Clearly, the flame didn't make it to any of the gasoline soaked areas. A corporal from Arizona came by with a 5 gallon can of gas yelling, "Let a REAL woodsman get that fire started." He commenced pouring large quantities of gasoline on the trash. Looking down into the pit, I saw a small glow from an area that had been burning just a bit earlier. Before I could say anything, the gasoline touched a hot area and a big fireball emerged from the pit. Most of us, including myself, started running as far from the pit as we could. Glancing back, I saw 3 people left behind. They weren't hurt. The gas can had caught on fire and a flame was burning at the spout. The 3 remaining Marines were trying to put out the fire on the can before it exploded. One Marine tipped over the can. Not sure what he was thinking but it certainly didn't give him the desired results. It just spread gasoline (and the fire) onto the sand. Good thing sand isn't flammable. Two of the Marines were running around with the can while trying to think of some way to put out the flame. The third, and most senior Marine, calmly walked up to the can, put on the lid, and hence extinguished the fire. Needless to say, all our trash got burnt that day.

Desert Shield soon turned into Desert Storm. We'd listen to the radio and hear about all the bombs being dropped on the Iraqis. There were 2000 pound bombs detonating all around the enemy. Based on the reports, it hardly sounded as if there would be much of an enemy left to fight. Yet, we knew people said the same thing when the beaches were being softened up by naval gunfire in Iwo Jima. It's amazing how much punishment a well fortified enemy can take. Despite how much firepower can be delivered from afar, the ground isn't taken until the infantry goes in. Only after that has the fat lady sung.

We'd have some friendly squad brawls and if someone in our own squad got an attitude, he got dog piled. It's amazing how hard you can throw someone onto the sand without hurting them. Unfortunately, I was often the one being thrown.

One less violent form of recreation we devised was called "skeeching." At least that's the name I remember. It was really more like water skiing on the sand. Our Humvees had a troop strap on the back. These were simply strong nylon straps used to keep people from falling out of the vehicle if we had to haul ass. They were connected to the vehicle by at hook at either end. We found that if you stood outside the vehicle, grabbed onto the troop strap and leaned back, once the Hummer started moving, it would pull you across the sand while remaining upright. Two people at a time could practice skeeching. The problem was if you hit a bump or other obstruction, you might lose your balance and get dragged until you let go. Fortunately, the ground was quite forgiving and you'd just end up with a mouthful of sand.

Such antics helped my squad earn the nickname "Section 8." In reality, Section 8 was the name of a discharge resulting from "mental defects." If someone in our squad did something outlandish, he would receive the title, "Section 8 of the day." Setting the example, my squad leader earned this title quite often. One day, we were told that we were to always have on our persons: our rifle, gas mask, dog tags, boots, and floppy hat. Later, my squad leader earned the "Section 8 of the day" title after he was spotted abiding to this rule...but wearing absolutely nothing else. The full monty!

I don't want to make it sound as if all we did was goof off. Those are just the things I remember best. Much of the time we spent digging trenches or training. We'd rehearse moving as a battalion and practice gun drills. Driving in formation, we'd receive the signal, stop the vehicle, send out security, set up the gun, and prepare to fire...all while being timed. This would be done over and over until it could be done quickly, efficiently, and without warning. A few times, we practiced while wearing chemical protective equipment. Interestingly, I can't whistle while wearing a gas mask.

Stoves were not an issued item. They weren't really necessary but they sure did help make some of the meals ready to eat (MREs) more palatable. We had nicknames for some of the meals. Beef stew was beef spew. Chicken-a-la-king was chicken-a-la-thing. Potatoes au gratin was potatoes au rotten. I don't see how anyone ate that one cold. Each MRE, which we claimed really stood for "Meals Rejected by Ethiopians," had an accessory pack which contained tabasco sauce, salt, sugar, matches, gum, and just enough toilet paper for one wipe (we got sent more TP). Also, every MRE came with crackers and something to put on them: cheese spread, peanut butter, or jelly. The peanut butter had a reputation for making one constipated. But we found that if you mixed several bags of cocoa powder, sugar, coffee cream, and just a tiny bit of water, you could create a syrupy concoction that seemed to get the bowels moving.

Now getting back to the stoves. The Brits (British soldiers) sold my platoon some nice stoves. The problem was each only ran on a non-refillable fuel canister made just for that brand of stove. Not expecting the Brits to come by too often, my squad stocked up on fuel canisters. After a few weeks, the other squads ran out and mine still had some. However, unlike the supply trucks, we never saw the Brits that first sold us the fuel canisters so once we ran out, that was all she wrote.

My squad leader got hold of a Whisperlite stove. I can't remember if he brought it with him from the states or if it got sent over. Unlike the stove the Brits had, these Whisperlites were completely civilian and had a refillable canister. It was made to run on white gas but with none available, we used "mo-gas." That was what we called the low grade unleaded gasoline used to run the Humvees. The stove worked quite well for a few weeks but had to be cleaned often. White gas burns cleanly and mo-gas does not. All the soot would clog things up. Anyway, my squad leader was in his hole one night cleaning his Whisperlite while me and another guy stood firewatch. Suddenly, there was a bright flash of light. The light was so bright, I first thought someone was burning donuts (mortar increment charges), until I saw my squad leader come out of his hole on fire! We quickly put him out, rushed him to get medical attention, and disposed of the stove. He lost some of his eyebrows and got his hands badly burnt but was otherwise fine. I guess those uniforms really are flame resistant. We hadn't even stepped into Kuwait and already we had one casualty. His hands were bandaged up but after a few weeks of light duty, he was fine.

Soon, we were eating meals ready to eat (MREs) 2 or 3 times a day and occasionally getting hot chow sent to us in the mornings. We'd dig holes when we needed to take a crap and wash clothes and ourselves using a washcloth, bar of soap, and a bowl of water. We called this method of cleaning ourselves "taking a bird bath." We never had much water but we always had enough.

Everyone in the squad knew each other like family. Quoting lines from Saturday Night Live was a popular way to waste time. They must have repeated the same lines a hundred times.
      "You know what I hate? When I take a, uh, um...ah..."
      "A 16 inch replica of the Statue of Liberty?"
      "Yeah, that it! And I stick it in my ear just to see how far it will go."
      "Ooh, ouch! Yeah, I know just what you mean, I hate that too."

One fellow in my squad attended an art institute and would entertain us with "trench mime." Standing outside the shallow part of the trench, we'd see him walk in the trench like he was going down stairs into a very deep hole. Then he'd come back up on an escalator. At least that's what it looked like. He was good at making us laugh.

The days were often cool and sunny until the wind changed direction. Then we could expect rain or a sandstorm. Sandstorms were never that bad. It got you dusty but if you wore your goggles and a rag over your nose and mouth, you were fine. Sandstorms were much tougher on the equipment. Putting panty hose over the air intake of the Humvee helped keep the engine clean. Nights were getting colder and the closer we got to the border, the more people we were instructed to have on firewatch. I remember waking up with ice on my poncho. Standing firewatch, I'd walk around with my sleeping bag around me like a cape, only to have my feet go numb from the cold.

Although the nights were cold, they were also quite peaceful. Our squad leader taught us to find the north star, the big dipper, and the little dipper. We could find some of the stars in Orion's belt but thought it looked more like the "lazy W" formation of a mortar platoon.

Some of us took on nicknames. The rule was you could never choose your own nickname. Only fighter pilots get to do that. Some of us got a nickname that fit and then people rarely called you by your real name. Others received a nickname that didn't quite work and people only called you by it occasionally. Most of us didn't like rap music so just to annoy each other, we'd give each other rapper names. I was Saki Fresh in Effect. Eventually it was shortened to Saki Fresh or sometimes just Fresh. In reality, nothing really annoyed us. We were pretty thick skinned. There was one exception, however. We'd insult each other's mothers and one guy took it personally. Nobody else did. That just gave us reason to insult his mother even more. Sort of like a little brother who does something to annoy his sister. If she shows that she is annoyed, he'll just do it more; and if she acts like she doesn't care, he'll stop. Anyway, we'd harass him and he'd get angrier. Then we'd dog pile him and in the end we'd all laugh and have no hard feelings towards each other.

We expected to find scorpions and snakes. At least that's what the training videos said. They always had a way of trying to scare you. Never saw either. We did, however, see dung beetles, camels, and occasionally, a lizard. We learned first hand that if you pull on the tail of a frightened lizard, his tail will come off and wiggle. There were no mosquitoes. Not sure if that was true for Saudi Arabia in general or because it was winter. There was no standing water so I don't imagine they'd have any place to lay their eggs. No sand dunes, greenery, rocks, or anything to provide scenery. It was flat sand as far as the eye could see. By comparison, the Rock Quarry, which we left several weeks prior, was eye candy.

The flatness of the terrain was unnerving during an electrical storm. The Humvees were the tallest things in the desert. I probably saw more lightning in one hour than I'd seen in all my life living in California. Perhaps that was just a normal electrical storm and this was the first time we'd been able to see 360 degrees all the way to the horizon. If so, it's amazing more people don't get struck by lightning.

At night, we'd see some small mice trying to get into our MREs. They were really fast and it took a few nights before anyone caught one. Turns out they were wild gerbils. We rarely saw them in the daytime.

Eventually, the care packages sent by civilians to "any Marine" caught up with us. We really loved the letters and goodies. They were great for morale. When we got a care package with a return address, I wrote a thank you letter and got the whole squad to sign it before sending it off. We received lots of sunscreen, shaving cream, Spam, and hard candy. Since it was winter, the sun wasn't bright enough to burn. Also, we had more shaving cream than we could possibly use. Rather than let it go to waste, we decided to set a little trap. For sanitation purposes, a "piss tube" was set up in each area. Rather than have Marines urinate wherever they wanted, a PVC pipe was set in the ground at a 45 degree angle. We'd urinate in that. Well, we knew that whenever a Marine went up to the piss tube, he'd stand in a specific spot. We snuck out at night and dug a shallow hole in that particular location. We then filled it up with shaving cream and sunscreen. Then we covered it with a thin layer of sand so it would be invisible. Sneaking off into the darkness, we waited. Sure enough, a Marine walked up to the piss tube, unbuttoning his trousers. Then we heard a squish followed by an, "Oh #*@%!!!" Sure it was juvenile but when you're really bored, it doesn't take much to keep oneself amused.

As we got closer to the Kuwaiti border, we started finding "surrender leaflets" which our planes dropped over the enemy. They were about 4" x 7" papers with Arabic writing and cartoons of Saddam Hussein or Iraqi soldiers. Each had instructions on how to surrender and promised humane treatment for those who did. From what we heard, they were quite effective. After several days of bombing by the U.S. and its allies, several disgruntled Iraqi soldiers just gave up. From what I heard, they were treated well and provided valuable intelligence. The surrender leaflets became a source of entertainment. We'd go looking for them, collect them, and trade them like baseball cards.

We received plenty of training in case of a gas attack. Though not comfortable, we knew we could function, if necessary, in a chemical environment. One day we were alerted to a Scud missile attack. We grabbed our gas masks and hid in a covered part of the trench until we were told to stand down. The Scud never came but we were as prepared as we could be if it had.

In my opinion, our first feeling of combat was when Iraqi tanks broke through our front lines. Our firewatch started yelling, "Stand to, stand to!" Instantly, we went from a dead sleep to sprint mode. They were still a good ways off but if the tanks weren't neutralized, we could be in trouble. We packed things up and assembled with the rest of the platoon. As silly as it may seem, no ammunition had been distributed. I guess the higher ups didn't think we were close enough to be in danger or that accidental discharges from our own troops were a greater threat. Regardless, this was all about to change. We began breaking open and distributing mortar ammunition. Each Humvee got around 80 rounds. Most people broke open the metal bindings by kicking them which almost always required multiple kicks. Fortunately, I carried emergency medical team (EMT) scissors which were much faster. My squad was the first to finish so we commenced to helping the rest of the platoon until we were told to stand down. The A-10 Warthogs took out the tanks with their big gun. While we never saw or engaged the enemy, the feeling was as if we did. We were pumped and ready to move. After the adrenalin wore off, we realized we had lost all concept of time and temperature. What we thought was only 30 minutes was really closer to 90 minutes. Also, we were running around in t-shirts despite the fact that the temperature was very cold. Our squad leader was pleased with how we responded.

Threats of nerve gas and Anthrax attacks led the command to require our unit to take pills which would supposedly give some protection from an attack by either. Some Marines developed temporary stomach discomfort which they attributed to ingesting these pills. Some of us took all the pills we were instructed to take over a few weeks. Some took very few, if any. I think I was somewhere in between. Many of us were skeptical as to the safety of the pills but in the end, most of us felt the risk of chemical or biological attack outweighed the risk from taking the pills.

We did what we could to stay motivated. For me, and much of my squad, listening to hard rock music kept our spirits up. Guns n' Roses, AC/DC, Skid Row, Metallica, and Megadeth were some of my personal favorites. I got to be pretty good on the air guitar. As I listened to "Welcome to the Jungle," I thought how our jungle was a desert and that we were far from welcome. The Saudis didn't like us being there but our presence was better than having the Iraqis conquer their land and take their oil.

My squad began associating the characters of movie "Young Guns 2" with ourselves. Some of the personalities seemed to fit. My squad leader was like the cowboy played by Emilio Estevez; a bold, daring, extroverted leader. I was more like the Indian played by Lou Diamond Phillips; the more reserved partner-in-crime. The theme song to the movie, Jon Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory," became our unofficial theme song:
      Each night I go to bed
      I pray the Lord my soul to keep
      No I ain't looking for forgiveness
      But before I'm six foot deep
      Lord, I got to ask a favor
      And hope you'll understand
      'Cause I've lived life to the fullest
      Let this boy die like a man
      Staring down a bullet
      Let me make my final stand

We moved close enough to the border to see into Kuwait. We could now see the oil wells burning. Still hadn't seen the enemy but we remained extra cautious at night.

Planes continued dropping bombs on the enemy. Though we were never close enough to see the explosions, we could sometimes feel them. I remember one day I was lying in my hole and could feel individual shock waves pass through the area. It was a very low frequency sound with pulses that passed through about every half to one second for about 15 seconds. Very strange feeling.

The squad leaders got called over to meet with the platoon commander for a briefing describing our role in the attack. He came back, made a map in the sand, and went over the plan. As it turned out, he knew the battle plans even before our platoon commander. The battalion commander's driver was a good friend of our squad leader and told him what was going to happen well in advance.

On February 23, we assembled for the ground attack near the Kuwaiti border. Smoke from the oil wells crept in from the Kuwaiti side, blackening the sky, and dropping temperatures. In a way, this was good since we had to wear our mission oriented protective posture (MOPP) suits to protect from chemical attacks. In cold weather, these suits were comfortable. God help the poor fellow who has to wear them in the heat.

The MOPP suits were thick, warm, and charcoal lined. Hence, they left everything underneath filthy. They were also woodland camouflage. Not a tree in sight and we're issued woodland camouflage MOPP suits! So much for camouflaging my rifle and trying to be fashionable.

For us, the ground war began on February 24, at 0430. Line charges were sent across the minefields to detonate the mines. I never actually saw a line charge but based on their description, they must have been a chain or wire with explosives that were fired across the minefield then detonated. Never heard anything so loud in my life when they went off. Armored bulldozers would then create a path so vehicles could be driven through the minefield. Driving through, we saw mines all around. The small anti-personnel mines looked like disc shaped air fresheners and the anti-tank mines looked like Tupperware.

My battalion, 2 / 2, spearheaded the attack into Kuwait through the minefields. We were attached with First Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). Nine battalions in a tic-tac-toe formation attacked in the MEF. We were front and center.

After crossing through the mine fields, we were shot at by mortars and artillery. That sucked but it was still better than Sea Duty (well...maybe not). Fortunately, there were no casualties in my platoon. We were near enough to see some close fighting up front, including tank versus tank battles, but we were too far back to efficiently engage the enemy without endangering our own troops.

On February 25, we moved to Al Abdaliyah. Our operations chief led us in, at least part of the way. He was a Vietnam veteran who served with the famous "Walking Dead." There were quite a few stories about his unit and based on his personality, we figured most of them were probably true.

The smoke from the oil wells completely blackened out the night sky. We couldn't even see our hand in front of our face. With no starlight to amplify, the night vision equipment was useless. Being the leftmost gun, our job was to ensure the other guns were properly aligned so all would shoot parallel. Our squad leader shined a red lens flashlight through our gun sight while we talked to the other squads via radio. They aimed in our our sight and made adjustments one by one. We were almost finished when an Iraqi tank began shooting. It sounded very close, though I suppose at night, everything sounds a little closer. Just a few more seconds...done. Our lights were off and the platoon was set up to fire if needed. The tank got off about 3 shots but failed to hit anything. He stopped shooting. Maybe he figured we moved and that by continuing to shoot, he would just make himself more vulnerable to counterattack. I wasn't about to question his reason for stopping. We were armed with M60 machine guns, squad automatic weapons, grenade launchers, some M72 LAW rockets, and about 640 81mm mortar rounds, but nothing to stop a tank. We were lucky the enemy tank stopped when he did.

That night, we dug in and remained at 50% alert. My squad leader led one watch and I led the other. Before dawn, we were all up and ready for a confrontation. As the sun rose, we saw that there was an enemy bunker only about 50 meters from our vehicle. To one side of our platoon, covering about 180 degrees, were an assortment of other Iraqi bunkers. There was also a large semi-truck, still running, and a Soviet made BMP (armored vehicle). The BMP was about 200 meters from our position.

A few minutes later, we saw a line of Iraqis walking towards us with their hands in the air. All were unarmed. I'm guessing there were about 20-30 of them. We stopped them about 75 meters from our vehicles, put them on the ground, searched them, and tied them up. From what I heard, they were just unlucky men that were snatched up in Iraq, given a rifle, very little training, then were told to defend their position. They had no desire to fight.

My platoon then commenced to blowing up the bunkers. While a Marine guarded the entrance, someone yelled for anyone to come out. If nobody came out, a grenade was thrown in. After the explosion, the bunker was searched. No Iraqis chose to remain in the bunkers.

The semi truck looked suspicious since its engine was left running. It was blown up. We suspected any abandoned vehicles to be booby trapped. A LAW rocket was shot at the BMP but it just bounced off without detonating. Did I mention these rockets were left over from the Vietnam War? Our M60 machine gunner started shooting at the BMP and he caught something on fire. Yeah, I know a mortar platoon doesn't normally have an M60 machine gunner but with 80+ people in the platoon, we could afford to have one guy in the squad with an M60. Anyway, the fire got bigger and there were some small explosions. Then the explosions got bigger. Pieces of metal were being thrown off the BMP. People started taking cover. Finally, there was one big explosion and large chunks of smoking metal were thrown as far as 200 meters away. Still, no casualties in the platoon. Whew!

We passed our prisoners onto another unit and moved onto Al Jahra.

I remember passing quite a few destroyed small buildings. We saw a cow walk by one of them, apparently unharmed. We started mooing at it but got no reply.

On February 27, we passed through a junkyard. With so many things for the enemy to hide behind, we were very cautious but had no confrontations. We ended up setting up about 500 meters outside the junkyard, across a road. Later, we saw a small civilian truck with two men leave the junkyard. They were dressed in civilian clothes and appeared unarmed. We weren't given permission to shoot and they made no hostile action towards us; they just drove off. We joked about them over the next several days calling them "Sanford and Son" and humming their theme song.

One hundred hours after the ground attack commenced, a cease fire was called. We weren't so sure anyone told the Iraqis about the cease fire so we continued to remain vigilant for awhile. After all, some of the Japanese soldiers were never told WWII was over and kept defending their positions for years.

Once the command started feeling safe, they let us build fires at night. This changed everything. Before, the cold weather was the worst thing about the environment. Now it meant nothing. Being set up near a junkyard meant we could find things to keep us amused. Some guys brought back headlights and hooked up the big PRC-77 batteries to them to provide illumination at night. Another guy brought back copper and other metal wires to throw into the fire so it would burn with different colors. Some Marines brought back things to build their own squad gyms. One guy even brought back and got running an old dune buggy. We would stay up at night, gathered around the fire, playing Yahtzee, heating up Spam, and singing songs. I think the only non-Christmas song we all knew the lyrics to was Kenny Rodger's "The Gambler"..., and of course, the Marines Hymn.

One night, we stood around the fire and made some small torches; I don't remember why. I then got a big stick, wrapped some oily rags around one end, and lit it on fire. It was a torch worthy of being a prop on "Land of the Lost." I started prancing up and down the gun line with it while my squad hummed the theme from "Chariots of Fire." Guys from other squads ran out and we passed the torch from one person to another as if we were delivering the Olympic torch in Athens. I earned my "Section 8 of the day" that night.

In March, many Marines were vomiting from what the command claimed was an over chlorination of the drinking water. It wasn't severe but still a little disturbing. The water never bothered me. The situation was apparently solved by switching to bottled drinking water.

We saw a couple of Arabian horses running around. We were never able to get close to them. Some donkeys and a burro came by and wandered from squad to squad. They were obviously tame and were well fed by the Marines who made them their unofficial squad mascot.

Our platoon took supposedly stray incoming rounds (small arms fire) at a few random incidents. Nobody was hurt and it was later concluded that the shots were celebratory fire. The Kuwaitis like to express their delight by spraying bullets into the air, oblivious to the fact that they must land somewhere. We'd often see tracer rounds lighting up the sky in the distance. I wondered if they yelled, "Yee-haw" when doing this.

For a few nights, mysterious lights were seen in the sky. There were yellow stripes of light appearing to come from clouds or oil smoke whose appearance would remain unchanged for about three hours. Never figured out what they were.

On March 28, we moved back to Al Jubail, Camp 15 (Tent City). The smoke from the oil wells make the trip very cold. Not having a windshield didn't help either. We took it out so we wouldn't have broken glass flying around if it got shot. I think the windshield ended up getting broken in storage. My squad leader drove and I sat in the passenger seat. The rest of the squad sat in the back. My squad leader wanted a smoke and couldn't get his cigarette lit with all the wind blowing in from where our windshield used to be. Nor could he stop since he had to keep up with the convoy. He handed his Marlboro red to me and I ducked down low in the Humvee, away from the wind. It took a few tries but I managed to get it lit. Coughing my lungs out, I handed him the lit cigarette and he continued driving, though now a much happier man. I still can't understand why people smoke those things.

Back at Tent City, we had showers, hot chow, latrines, and cots. Ironically, we were happier at the junkyard. After 3 months in the field, we had to get back into garrison mode. Our uniform had to look proper, our gear had to be clean, and we had to act appropriately. No more walking around in t-shirts with the sleeves cut off starting wrestling matches at the drop of a hat. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Remember the small amount of cash we received every two weeks while we were out in the field? Remember how there was little to spend it on? That all changed back at Tent City. Gambling was rampant. In my platoon, I played nickel ante poker games with friends but I heard stories of thousand dollar winnings in other parts of the camp.

There was a little rest and recreation spot we got bused to a couple of times. I don't remember what it was called but I remember it had a swimming pool and an area with lots of weight lifting equipment. On every piece of equipment was written, "Donated by Arnold Schwarzeneggar." Civilian support was great for morale. It was such a contrast to the attitudes against those who fought the Vietnam War. Based on news reports, it seemed most of America was in favor of the war or at least were in favor of supporting the troops.

General Al Gray came by with Sergeant Major David Sommers while we stood in formation. General Gray was the Commandant and Sergeant Major Sommers was the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps at the time. They asked who was the youngest Marine in our platoon. An 18 year old New Yorker raised his hand and was then given a personalized Marine Corps coin. That really made his day. The General and sergeant major said a few encouraging words then were off to visit another part of the camp.

In early March, the weather was pretty nice. Then in April, it got very hot. At night, the wind would blow over tables and shake the big squad tents like a rabid gorilla on steroids shaking a rag doll. We left just a few days after it started getting really hot.

We flew out of Saudi Arabia in 747s on April 11. We stopped in Shannon, Ireland to refuel. The battalion sergeant major said we could leave the plane, but we had to stay in the terminal and couldn't drink alcohol. He was booed. Then he said we could each have one drink. The plane burst into cheer. Did I say that Marines can't count very well? I was still a non-drinker at that point so I remembered things with a sober memory. The trip from Ireland to New York City was the most jubilant environment I've ever witnessed. It was like we won the Super Bowl. Needless to say, the stewardesses received lots of attention but they seemed to enjoy it. After NYC, we made our way to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, then back to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The festive mood continued for several days.

There were no casualties in my platoon through there were a few in my battalion; nobody I knew personally. Several years later, I heard from a Marine colonel that 2 / 2 was the first to take casualties in the ground assault. Looking back, almost 14 years to the day, in some ways it seems like yesterday, and in other ways, it was a lifetime ago. I feel honored to have served my country and blessed to have returned in one piece. I only wish this same blessing for the troops currently deployed overseas.

For photos, see Gulf War photos.