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Euphoria Reigns On the Home Front

March 9, 1991

Undated (AP) _ Forget the weather report. At military bases from coast to coast expect a continuing blizzard of red, white and blue and showers of tears and kisses for troops coming home from the Gulf War.

Under blue skies and in the rain, on the tarmac and in airplane hangars across the nation, soldiers held onto their dear ones, ending months of fear that they might not live to see this day.

At Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Shawn Crawford finally got to kiss his bride. Tears filled his eyes as he lifted Dannette Crawford into the air Friday night, their first together since they married by proxy in January.

″It’s incredible,″ Crawford said. He was one of 40 returning members of the Dover 436th Security Police Force who arrived Friday at a passenger terminal decked out in American flags and a yellow bow on every pole.

Some 4,000 U.S. soldiers headed home Friday to bases in Texas, California, Maine, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Louisiana.

More troops were to arrive throughout the weekend. Homecomings were set for today in California, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan and Texas. Other American troops will arrive today at their home bases in Germany and Britain.

About 540,000 U.S. servicemen and women were sent to Saudi Arabia after Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2. Bringing them back is expected to take several months.

At Fort Bragg, N.C., the throng waiting for hundreds of members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division grew impatient with speeches by Gov. Jim Martin and Fort Bragg Maj. Gen. William Roosma.

″Let them go. Let them go,″ the crowd chanted until Martin stepped aside. The troops broke rank and families and friends surged forward to greet them.

Wilma and Mike Marshall drove 24 hours straight from Oklahoma to see their son, Spec. 4 Ronnie Marshall.

″The tears have been building up for seven months so you’ve got to expect a lot of them,″ Mrs. Marshall said as she hugged her son.

Spec. 4 Wade Saine and his wife, Donna, could hardly break away from each other to speak to anyone else. Their 7-year-old son, Jeffrey, clung to their legs.

″I just want to go home and talk,″ Saine said, grasping his wife’s hand.

″I’m going to tell him how great I can read now,″ Jeffrey said.

Samantha Kriteser, who was born after her father, Sgt. Neil Kriteser, left for Saudi Arabia, yawned when they met for the first time.

″She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,″ Kriteser said. His wife, Gina, wept.

″Now I just want to go home, lock the doors and feed him,″ Mrs. Kriteser said of her husband. ″He’s lost some weight. Then we can put out a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign and just hibernate.″

The scene was similar at Fort Bliss, Texas, where the first large group of Texans deployed to the gulf came home to a screaming crowd of 2,000 teary-eyed relatives and well-wishers.

The crowd pushed toward the aircraft that delivered the first of 371 returning units of the 11th Air Defense Artillery.

Buddy Willeford was there to greet her soldier son, Jeffrey Al Willeford.

″It’s kind of a bittersweet time,″ Ms. Willeford said. ″I think of the mothers whose kids aren’t coming home and mine is. It’s overwhelming.″

At the Oakland Naval Hospital in California, a blur of red, white and blue balloons and 200 expectant faces met 420 doctors, nurses and technicians home after seven months at sea in the gulf aboard the hospital ship USNS Mercy.

Pat Conaty and her two children, ages 7 and 2, were there for Kelly Conaty with balloons in hand and the promise of warm cookies at home in Dublin, Calif.

″He missed all of our birthdays this year,″ Mrs. Conaty said. ″I’m so happy to get him home. I was really nervous that he wouldn’t make it, right up to the time the plane landed.″