Families, Friends Honor Desert Storm Fallen
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
GREENSBURG, Pa., Feb. 27, 2001 As they have each year for the past decade, townsfolk here came to pay their respects, share their grief and remember their loved ones' glory.
Families and friends gathered Feb. 25 in this traditionally blue-collar town of 60,000 bordering the Allegheny Mountains 50 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, to honor those they lost during Operation Desert Storm 10 years ago.
At 12:28 p.m. local time -- the exact time an errant Iraqi Scud missile struck a temporary barracks housing Army Reserve soldiers -- bugler and World War II veteran Julius Falcon played "Taps" for those who died in the Feb. 25, 1991, attack.
The strike killed 28 and wounded 99. Thirteen of the dead and 43 of the wounded were Army Reservists of the Greensburg-based 14th Quartermaster Detachment. The little water purification unit suffered the greatest number of casualties of any coalition unit during the war.
Several hundred family and friends attended a memorial service at Greensburg Central Catholic High School, located next door to the Reserve center. Following the service, children of the dead and visiting officials laid wreaths at a monument at the nearby Reserve center. The roll was called, a 21-gun salute rendered.
President George W. Bush, whose father was commander in chief during Desert Storm, and Secretary of State retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both sent personal messages.
"I have the highest regard for those who serve, and I am sorry to miss the opportunity to pay my respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom," Bush wrote. "Please convey my personal regrets and best wishes to the families and friends of the brave soldiers to whom tribute is being paid."
Powell's message stated: "It is fitting and proper to pause and remember those men, those women and families who paid so dearly to ensure that freedom's flag would never be taken down."
The ceremony was one of several marking the 10th anniversary of the end of Operation Desert Storm. The war in the Persian Gulf sparked by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, officially ceased Feb. 28, 1991.
Nearly 470,000 active duty U.S. troops served in Operation Desert Storm, along with nearly 217,000 reserve component forces called to active duty. Nearly 300 Americans died in service, 148 of them in combat. Another 470 were wounded in action.
Just as their grief has waned over the last decade, rainy skies cleared for the several hundred family members who'd gathered in the high school gym here to attend the memorial.
Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Plewes, chief, Army Reserve, highlighted the importance of the reserve components in the total force. Over 130,000 Army Reservists served in the Persian Gulf campaign, "doing what they have done in all the nation's wars -- standing up and being counted for America," he said.
The soldiers who died 10 years ago were men and women, young and "not so young," married and single, black and white, Plewes said. "They were -- they are -- America. When the nation needed them they answered the call.
"When you see an Army Reservist, you see America," Plewes said. "When you send an Army Reservist off to war, you send America off to war. And when an Army Reservist is killed or wounded, America hurts.
The soldiers of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment showed the Army, the nation and the world what citizen soldiers can do, he said. "When they went in harm's way, they were fully backed by Greensburg and the American people.
"As we gather here today, we honor the men and women from hundreds of towns and cities all across America -- towns just like Greensburg -- who have answered the call and put themselves in harm's way," the general stressed. "We are forever in their debt."
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley traveled from the Pentagon to attend the ceremony. "I know there's nothing I can say to replace the lives of your lost loved ones," he told the families, "but what I want you to know is your loved ones died for something important.
"Millions of people around the world today are better off today because of these soldiers' sacrifices," he said. "And because our country, as it has for more than 200 years, drew a line in the sand and stood up for the ideals that made our country the greatest in the world.
"A soldier's calling has never been an easy one," the veteran NCO declared. "Your soldiers, your loved ones … paid the ultimate price for their country. They paid the price to place a down payment on the future security of our country and our world."
Maj. Gen. Rodney D. Ruddock, commander, 99th Regional Support Command, has attended all of the quartermaster unit's annual memorial services. He saluted the families' courage, recalling that when these soldiers left Greensburg, many in the audience exchanged final embraces and said prayers that they might complete their mission and return safely.
"Our strength to face the tragedy that occurred 10 years ago has grown from our personal inner faith and our collective empathy," Ruddock said. "Our strength lies, too, in the full knowledge that every soldier is also loved and respected by a supportive family and now an extended family and truly, a circle of friends.
"We in uniform know well that those we leave behind as we depart for our uncertain futures," he said, " are the essence of our service and become symbolic of our dedication to it."
Maria M. Wolverton can attest to Ruddock's statement.
After her husband, Spc. Richard V. Wolverton, 24, died in Dhahran, the Army Reserve detachment became her lifeline in her new land. Widowed eight months after her wedding, the German-born woman has never remarried.
"Because we were only married a few months, we'd never had a fight. We'd never had an argument. Everything was still rosy. When I meet somebody, I always compare him to Rick and I haven't found anybody yet who can match him."
She said the Reserve unit and the people of Greensburg helped her decide to stay in America and withstand her loss.
"My husband died for this country so I want to live in this country," she said.