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Sailors’ Kin Grieve, Rejoice, Wait

May 19, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Across America, families of the USS Stark’s 200 crew members grieved for their dead, rejoiced for the living or waited anxiously for word of their loved ones’ fates following the Persian Gulf missile attack.

″We’re walking zombies right now,″ Theresa Luffman of Watertown, N.Y., said Monday after finally getting through to the Pentagon for news of her 25- year-old son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Luffman.

Luffman’s family made dozens of phone calls to a special Navy information number before learning he was not on casualty lists from Sunday’s Iraqi air raid on the guided-missile frigate.

Mrs. Luffman said the Navy felt her son was still aboard the Stark, which was under tow today as firefighters battled stubborn blazes around a gaping hole in its side.

″The waiting is the worst part,″ Debra Kirkland said in Tallahasse, Fla., as she tried to learn what had happened to her only child, 25-year-old Petty Officer Christopher Jones.

The waiting ended Monday night for Ella Mae Moller, of Columbus, Ga. After she spent much of Monday trying to reach the Pentagon, officers went to her house to tell her that her son, Petty Officer 3rd Class Charles T. Moller, 27, had been killed.

Mrs. Moller said she received a note two days ago from her son assuring her he was safe aboard the Stark, even though the ship was leaving for the war zone.

″Iran may be dumb enough to fire a missile at China,″ he wrote, referring to an incident earlier this year. ″But Iran is not dumb enough to fire on one of our ships. Neither is Iraq.″

Navy officials went to the Detroit suburb of Ferndale on Monday night to tell relatives of Joe Watson, 25, that he was among those killed.

″He was the youngest of six, and his family is heartbroken,″ Watson’s mother, Thelma, said today.

″This was probably one of the tougher 24 hours in my life,″ Canaan, N.H., Police Chief Jonathan Putnam said this morning after hearing that his brother, Carroll Putnam was not hurt. ″The uncertainty and the sketchy information that kept coming in made it very difficult to deal with.″

In Columbus, Ohio, the family of Michael Nelson, 23, lit candles in their front yard as they waited to learn whether he had been hurt. The Pentagon notifed them that he was not among the dead.

Nelson’s wife, Tracy, gave birth to a girl early Monday in Florida.

″He was so anxious about the baby being born. This is his first,″ said his mother, Maria Nelson.

A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for Friday at the Stark’s homeport, Mayport Naval Station, near Jacksonville, Fla.

For others, the waiting ended Monday and the mourning began. One of those was Robert DeAngelis of Dumont, N.J., whose newly married 23-year-old son, Christopher, had been an electronics technician on the Stark.

″It was just like in the movies,″ said DeAngelis. ″Two officers walked up to the house about 3 o’clock and said: ’Sir, we regret to inform you that your son gave his life in the line of duty.‴

He said his son’s wife, Donna, was taking the news ″very hard″ at her Florida home. ″They were married on New Year’s Day.″

Alfreda Shippee of Adams Center, N.Y., also learned that her 35-year-old son, fire control technician Robert Shippee, was killed.

″He was a patriotic boy and he would do everything for his country,″ she said. Shippee left a wife and three children, ages 8 to 12.

Carol Kiser lost her husband, and his 5-year-old boy and 11-year-old daughter lost their father, 18-year Navy veteran Stephen Kiser, in the attack.

″He’s gone to meet the Lord,″ his mother, Norma Kiser, said in Elkhart, Ind.

″He was an electrician’s mate,″ she said. ″He was the command senior chief in the power plant. He kept the thing going.″

″He really loved the Navy,″ she said. ″That was his life, defending his country and not letting them come over here.″

Others learned their relatives were hurt but alive.

Paige McLeod of Millbrook, Ala., said her brother, William McLeod, telephoned her. ″He said he’s fine,″ Miss McLeod said. ″He has some cuts, his feet were cut up pretty bad.″

She said her brother was able to provide few details about what had happened. ″He told me that I knew more than he did.″

In Hoosick Falls, N.Y., Jane Dugan received a call Monday evening from her 21-year-old son, William Morandi, from a hospital in the Persian Gulf country of Bahrain.

She said her son told her a Bahraini helicopter had fished him out of the water, and that he had suffered only a few bruises.

″He sounded wonderful,″ Dugan said. ″I asked him if he would be coming home, and he said he thought he would be coming home but they were going to take it one step at a time.″

Dugan said her son told her few other details about the attack, and that she didn’t press him.

″It’s scary,″ she said of her ordeal. ″I hope no one ever has to go through something like this.″

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