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Santa Makes Several Appearances But Soldiers Gloomy at Christmas

December 25, 1990

IN EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ Flight crew member Stephanie Harr ran out on the deck of the USNS Mercy hospital ship Tuesday to bellow ″Merry Christmas″ to her family in San Antonio.

Specialist John Davidson of the 37th Airborne Engineer Battalion pulled guard duty in a sandstorm on Christmas day. ″Everybody here is down and depressed,″ he said.

Bob Hope, meanwhile, tailored his 50th year of entertaining troops at Christmas to a devout Moslem land.

The 300,000 U.S. troops sent to Saudi Arabia under Operation Desert Shield marked Christmas - Day 140 of the deployment - with a bittersweet mix of holiday cheer and homesickness.

Santa made several appearances. He reached the 1,000-bed hospital ship Mercy after the AWACs surveillance planes spotted a low-flying object and reported that it was ″a sleigh, pulled by deer and driven by an old man.″

He also appeared in a bunker.

Spec. Chad Dombrosky, 20, of Milton-Freewater, Ore., was on guard duty when at the stroke of midnight he alerted the sergeant of the guard of unusual activity: ″There’s a fat guy in a red suit with a bag full of gifts who wants to come into the camp, but he doesn’t know the password,″ Dombrosky said.

The best present the troops could have received was to be with loved ones.

″I’d like to be home for Christmas, but the military is our second family,″ said Joseph Leo, 20, of Des Moines, Iowa. Leo was brought to the hospital ship three days ago with internal bleeding.

In a nearby bed, Sgt. Danny Barrick, 30, of Carlyle, Pa., stared ruefully at his broken leg - injured in a desert football game - that will earn him a spot on a plane home.

His Christmas wish?

″Hopefully I’ll get this drip taken out of my arm,″ he said, pointing to the intravenous tubes next to him. But Christmas in a hospital bed was much ″better than sitting out there with the sand blowing over you,″ he said.

First Sgt. Charles Rio, 39, of Fayetteville, N.C., received a most unlikely gift from his son: a fishing lure to catch ″land bass.″

His unit, the 37th Battalion, received a 90-minute videotape from a family support group. Troops viewed the tape for the first time on Christmas.

Pfc. Raymond Waldorf, 25, of Greenville, Mich. saw his wife, 2-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter on the tape.

″It brightened up an otherwise gloomy day,″ Waldorf said.

The armed forces radio network avoided most songs with a religious theme to avoid hurting Saudi sensibilities. The kingdom, which uses the Moslem holy book, the Koran, as the basis for all laws, bans other religions.

Bob Hope was back with the troops for Christmas but he had to leave Marie Osmond, the Pointer Sisters and other ″girls″ in his tour behind in Bahrain because Saudi Arabia bans female entertainers.

Instead, Hope took former Cincinnatti Reds catcher Johnny Bench and country and western singer Aaron Tippon to visit the troops.

The U.S. military barred the media from covering Hope’s shows, saying his repertoire ″could be exploited by the Iraqis for propaganda purposes,″ but Hope delivered some of his patois at a news conference on Tuesday morning.

He said he was briefed on Saudi sensitivities three times and tailored his show to avoid offending Moslems, eliminating jokes about American men and Saudi women.

Chief Warrant Officer Wesley Wolf, the military’s food czar, made sure that one part of Christmas tradition was intact in the desert - the menu.

Everybody received turkey, ham, roast beef and all the trimmings. And troops didn’t lack for desert - there were stacks of cookies almost reaching the height of sandbags.

The Persian Gulf crisis, however, was not entirely forgotten. The Arab News newspaper has been running a ″K-day″ countdown showing the number of days Iraq has until the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline for it to pull out of Kuwait or face the possibility of a military strike by the U.S.-led forces.

The paper wrote:

″Twas the night before ‘K-Day’

and all through Kuwait,

no Iraqi was leaving;

they had sealed their fate.″

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein told Jordanian politicians visiting Baghdad Tuesday that he wouldn’t leave Kuwait until Israel withdrew from the occupied territories.

″Let all the fleets and Israel hear, Palestine comes first and it must be liberated,″ Saddam said.

In other gulf-related developments Tuesday:

-The New York Times reported that 20 North Korean military advisers arrived in Baghdad to help Iraq repair its Soviet-made MiG warplanes. The report, quoting Asian diplomats, said North Korea also was to provide spare parts the Soviets have stopped shipping Iraq in compliance with the U.N.-imposed embargo.

-Iraqi newspapers said in Christmas editorials that Baghdad would never surrender and warned President Bush that many American lives would be lost in any war with Iraq.

-Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Arens said he had seen no significant change in the gulf crisis that indicated heightened danger for Israel. Newspapers had said a day earlier the military was on higher alert and had reinforced its defenses along the border with Jordan.

-The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council wound up a four-day summit by urging Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait and spare Iraq the horrors of war.

-The Iraqi army newspaper Al-Qadissiya reported that Austrian President Kurt Waldheim might travel to Baghdad in early January to try to defuse the crisis. Waldheim said on Austrian state-run ORF television Monday night that he was planning a trip to Oman and possibly other Arab countries and would work for peace using contacts he made while U.N. secretary-general from 1972 to 1981.

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