Thursday, November 25, 2010

Desert Storm - Holidays

By the time 1990 rolled around, I was certainly no stranger to being away from relatives on holidays. Note, I didn't write "loved ones" or "family." Those with whom I served were often like brothers or sisters to me; and, in many cases they were (and remain) closer than family to me. Those who have served understand what I'm talking about.

Still, there is a sense of loneliness when one is separated from familiar traditions, away from those with whom one grew up. This was especially so for me as I spent those holidays in Saudi Arabia.

I don't remember if it was Thanksgiving or Christmas, but I remember eating one holiday meal in the middle of a raging sand storm. We had goggles over our eyes and "dew rags" covering our noses and mouths as we made our way to where the mess folks were serving the turkey, ham and trimmings. I remember sitting in the large tent feeling rather glum as I ate my sandy food. It probably wasn't as bad as I remember, it being somewhat of a fleeting memory now.

One thing I do remember with great fondness is the camaraderie the twenty of us shared during our time leading up to the ground war. There were no secrets among us, as is often the case when people live together in close quarters spending just about every waking (and sleeping) moment together. We told stories about our misspent youths (some of those guys were wild men in their younger days), secrets we never told anyone else, our feelings (which is something men rarely talk about) and other things.

Our senior warrant officer pilot, who was dubbed "The Old Dog" by one of the crew chiefs, told us about some of his experiences as a CH-47 Chinook crew chief in Vietnam. They were personal, heart-felt stories about his own fears and triumphs during that time. He would often end the stories with something like, "I don't know why I'm telling you guys this, I've never told anyone about that." I think it was very good for him to get it out after so long.

I won't share any of his stories, as they are his, except for one. I remember one morning we were all discussing the great support we were getting from home. I've mentioned this a couple times in previous installments of this series. The Old Dog stopped us and related his story of returning home from Vietnam after his first tour. He told us how he landed at an Air Force base near Seattle, happy to be home and ready to be with family and friends. As he was going through the return processing, he was advised that he should change into civilian clothes before leaving the base to avoid confrontations with protesters.

He thought at the time it was their right to protest a war they found unjust, and he felt he was fighting for their right to do so. However, it was the more personal expressions of protest, the "Baby Killer" and "Murderer" signs that really hurt him. As I recall, he said he felt betrayed as the bus he was on left the base and people hurled insults, eggs and even a few rocks at the bus full of servicemen. I can't say I blame him for feeling that way.

He told us something like, "Yeah, everything is fine now. But, wait until the body bags start going home and people start getting hurt. All this support could dry up very quickly." I could sense the hurt in his voice as he related this to us. It was quite sobering. (You'll be glad to know there is a happy ending to this particular thread which I will relate in a later installment.)

To wrap things up, please remember our service men and women always - but especially during the holidays. My old unit, the 3rd ACR is in Iraq right now helping the people there establish their post-Saddam way of life. Check them out on Facebook: They're over there working hard doing things most of us wouldn't dream of doing.

This is part 8 in a series. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19


  1. I don't know how it is you can have such a vivid detail memory after so many years...but you're helping to jog mine. Awesome blog, buddy!
    - Spiff

  2. Thanks, Spiff. You know, I still have that deck of aircraft recognition cards we played Cribbage with in those days. #3 son and I play rummy with them.

  3. Elmer,
    I often look back fondly on those days! I have several of the pics from then rolling over the screens on my computers as screen savers! I can tell You as well, that that group has always been the tightest with whom I served. Can't say I have played RISK as much as we did over there! Good memories, and great story about "The Old Dog!"

  4. So, I am anxiously awaiting the evening of the GREAT FLOOD and the DOORS Concert! I have my journals with sketches from that night. Still can recall it like it was yesterday. So sad Flickster is gone!

  5. Someone else on Facebook brought up the flood story. Yes, that one is coming.

    If you don't mind, could you email me some of your pictures? I'd love to see them.

  6. Guys, I actually have a photo of the Flickster when he was flinging that chem stick around during the "concert"! The flash from the camera loses some of that inside the tent awesome scattering of light show though. Miss him!

  7. I need to get to that story quickly. Perhaps one of you who were in the tent while it was going on could share your perspective.