Veterans of the mighty 24th Infantry Division are at Fort Stewart to commemorate the silver anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. Many activities have taken place during the five-day reunion, which ends today. These activities fostered social interaction, remembering and celebrating, educational sessions on post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide prevention and understanding the Gulf War Syndrome. The National Desert Storm Memorial presentation Friday was the highlight of the reunion. The following article is one I wrote in late July 1991.
On a hot Friday in July 1991, I had the pleasure of untying all of the large, faded yellow ribbons that had adorned the lampposts around Hinesville City Hall for almost a year. These decorated lamps had been shown on national television many times during the war. Many thoughts ran through my mind about the events that had happened since those yellow ribbons had been placed as a constant reminder that our soldiers were serving our country in a foreign land.
August 1990 was a very emotional time for all of us, civilians and military. Our soldiers were being sent to hot, dry Saudi Arabia to help a tiny country, Kuwait, of which many of us had never heard. Many of our National Guardsmen were activated. Operation Desert Shield was under way.
Working in government, I got to witness firsthand the comings and goings of the soldiers and their families as their lives were interrupted and they prepared to leave their homes and loved ones on very short notice. There were many tearful moments as we helped the young soldiers and their wives get their water cut off or transferred as they prepared to journey into the unknown.
Traffic was thinned down in a hurry in town. We no longer had to wait in line at eating establishments. Businesses began to suffer, and a few had to close. Yellow ribbons were everywhere. Prayer services were numerous. There seemed to be a spirit of unity among the people.
As time went by, everyone had Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Saddam Hussein, Scud missiles, Patriot missiles, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, President George H.W. Bush and CNN in their conversations and on their minds. Our mayor, Buddy DeLoach, visited the 24th Infantry Division in Saudi Arabia just before Christmas.
Our neighbor, Army Staff Sgt. Wayne Faulkner, a Georgia boy and member of the Medical Department Activity who had given shots to Gen. Schwarzkopf when they were stationed together, was sent to the desert just a few days after he arrived home from six weeks of training in Texas. He left behind his Kansas wife, Karen; 5-year-old daughter, Ashley; and 2-year-old son, Brandon. They had become our close neighbors just a year before and quickly became part of our family. The kids called us Grandma and Papa. We promised Wayne that we would look after his cherished family while he was away doing his chosen duty — defending our country with honor and pride.
During the eight months he was gone, we shared the many holidays and birthdays that came along. We kept letters and care packages going his way constantly. We sent him some Glennville onions in a box, and the troops went crazy over them! He wrote very seldom, and we clung to every tidbit of information from him. Karen was an ideal military wife, standing behind her man with 100 percent support for what he was doing. The kids did not forget their father for one day. I was supposed to support and console Karen, but she usually ended up consoling me. My entire family was very proud to be associated with such an outstanding military family.
On Wednesday evening, Jan. 16, 1991, I had prepared a delicious supper of tiny green butterbeans, rice and gravy and golden fried chicken. We had just sat down to eat and were listening to the news on CNN. I was eating beans when suddenly Peter Arnett made the announcement to the world that he was hearing bombs outside his hotel window. The beans stuck in my throat, and my supper was forgotten. I attended a prayer meeting while my husband went over to our neighbors and informed Karen and her parents that the bombing had begun. They had not been watching the news. The next six weeks were very long and hard. We were tuned to the television almost constantly.
When President Bush declared that Kuwait was a free nation, everyone was filled with joy. As I shopped at Wal-Mart the next day, one could feel the excitement in the air and tell by the expressions on the shoppers’ faces that a great burden had been lifted. Everyone was smiling and radiant. We were all looking forward to our men and women coming home very soon.
An elderly black man came into my office on business, and while I was writing his receipt, he began telling me how much he missed his wife of 45 years who had died a few months earlier. As he was telling this, I could see tears welling up in his eyes. Suddenly, his old, wrinkled face broke into a beautiful smile as he said, “I was sure glad to hear President Bush say that the war was over the other night. That president sure knows what he’s doing. Yes, ma’am, I (am) proud of him and our soldier boys!” I could only nod in agreement, as I was too choked up to speak.
Our town became very excited and busy preparing for the great homecoming of our heroes. Decorations and banners were put in place, and a great parade planned. It was my job to order more than 100 flags to fly on the utility poles along the streets. All the flag companies I called had sold out. CNN heard about my plight and announced it. Flag companies across the nation were calling me. Finally, as a bus was unloading troops at Hunter Army Airfield, the UPS truck delivered the flags to me. The Street Department crew went into action and had the flags flying as our troops arrived at Fort Stewart and in Hinesville.
I had the honor of working as a volunteer with the USO at Cottrell Field on Fort Stewart helping to welcome the soldiers home. I worked four different days and believe me, it was one of the most moving moments of my lifetime as I watched our proud men and women in desert uniforms march across the field to their families and loved ones while the Lee Greenwood song “I’m Proud to Be an American” played over the loudspeakers. As quickly as I could get the large lump out of my throat and dry the proud tears running down my cheeks, I helped greet the heroes, especially the ones who had no one waiting for them.
Staff Sgt. Faulkner was one of the last ones to come home, arriving after Easter. His daughter thought that because her schoolmates’ fathers had already come home, her daddy had been killed, and we did not want to tell her. When he came marching across the field and his family ran into his arms — that was a moment to remember, and we did capture it on video!
It has been a year now since the great upheaval in our communities, and things are about back to normal for most of us. For some families, it will never be the same again, as their loved ones came back badly wounded or did not live to make it back home. They had given their lives for our country. Yes, the physical war is over but the mental images of it will always remain in the minds of those who participated. We are proud of all our military people who help keep the freedoms we hold dear for our country, the USA! Thank you, those who wear the uniform and the families and friends who stand behind them with support. Let us pay a special tribute to those who gave their life defending freedom! Sixteen Taro Leaf soldiers paid the ultimate price for freedom during the Persian Gulf War.