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300 Arrive Home from Saudi Arabia; Others Recount Escapes With AM-Gulf-Americans, Bjt

August 14, 1990

Undated (AP) _ About 300 weary wives and children of oil workers flew to Houston from their adopted Saudi homes on Monday, and a businessman who fled Iraq after the Kuwait invasion said he would form a group to help stranded Americans.

A State Department spokeswoman said Monday that about 500 Americans have managed to flee Kuwait since Aug. 2.

Among them were a Las Vegas dance troupe, guests of the Kuwaiti royal family, who were awakened before dawn by their hosts to flee across the burning sands to Saudi Arabia. Another woman described being led across the border by a Bedouin guide.

The group that arrived in Houston on a 20-hour flight from Riyadh via Amsterdam included 8-year-old Nathan Gildersleeve, who said he left his father behind in Saudi Arabia ″because I missed my mother.″

″It’s good to be home,″ said Linda Gunter of El Paso. ″We just wish our husbands were with us.″

Aramco Services Co., a petroleum services firm, arranged for the flight to return children home for the fall school term and to allow others concerned for their safety to come home.

Michael Saba, a businessman who was in Baghdad at the time of the invasion, said he would use his connections in the region to help stranded Americans get out through a group he is forming called the Coming Home Committee.

″Of course, all of us who were kind of stranded in Iraq were tense, waiting to see what was going to happen,″ said Saba, president of GulfAmerica International Business Services of Champaign, Ill. ″But, I do want to point out that the Iraqis treated us very well.″

Saba said he has visited the families of Americans still stranded in Iraq and Kuwait and would work with the State Department and private humanitarian groups.

″We feel strongly that private efforts need to be made,″ said Saba. ″We’ll be working as individuals and we’re accepting donations to pay for phone calls, postage, tickets home and the like.″

Saba and another U.S. businessman paid $100 on Wednesday for an eight-hour taxi ride from their Baghdad hotel to the border between Iraq and Jordan, then hitchhiked across the Jordanian desert to Amman.

Saba said Iraqi troops stopped the taxi once and checked passports, but made no effort to prevent him from leaving.

Many foreigners stayed behind because they were unsure whether the border was open, Saba said. Iraqi declarations on the subject have been contradictory and confusing.

Saba said he was staying at the Sheraton Hotel at the time of the invasion, and was moved by the government to the Rashid, a luxurious hotel with beautiful grounds, a swimming pool, a gourmet restaurant and bowling alley.

He recalled lighter moments such as eating Del Monte bananas in the hotel lounge while listening to a piped-in song with the lyrics: ″Please release me, let me go.″

A seven-member American dance troupe, staying in a beach villa as the guests of the Kuwaiti royal family, were awakened moments after the Iraqi invasion by their hosts and helped to flee, said Shirley Rankin, the mother of one of the dancers.

Suzette Rankin, 19, of Las Vegas, and the other dancers were in Kuwait to give a performance for the U.S. ambassador and the emir of Bahrain, Mrs. Rankin said.

It was the 19-year-old’s first trip overseas, her mother said.

″Needless to say we didn’t expect this much of an adventure,″ she said. A Saudi hotel at first refused to allow the dancers to register because they were unaccompanied, Mrs. Rankin said. But the intervention of a British diplomat resolved the quandary.

Ramona Magee, 30, of San Diego, said a Kuwaiti Bedouin had helped her and a British companion, Anita Rawlinson, escape from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia shortly after the invasion.

″We drove south across the desert on hard sand to avoid the main roads,″ Magee, a marketing manager for a Kuwaiti firm, said in a telephone interview from London with The San Diego Union.

The group was at once point turned back from the Saudi border, but Iraqi soldiers finally let them pass, she said.

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