War Duties Complete, Returning Troops Switch to Domestic Duty With AM-Gulf-POWs Return, Bjt
Undated (AP) _ Soldiers, sailors and airmen turned their attention from war to love on Sunday, rejoicing over the timely birth of a baby girl, the feel of a real wedding ring or an embrace with a pen pal-turned-fiancee.
Troops began making their journey home last week and kept coming through the weekend. About 540,000 servicemen and women were sent to the Middle East after Iraq invaded Kuwait in early August. Bringing them back is expected to take several months.
It was dark in Oakland, Calif., when 120 Navy medical workers arrived well before dawn Sunday morning, but they got a bright welcome anyway.
The returnees, who spent seven months serving on the hospital ship Mercy, were greeted by well-wishers in a ceremony at Oakland Naval Hospital.
″It was festive, a lot of tears of joy,″ hospital spokesman Paul Savercool said.
There were more arrivals Sunday in other parts of California, as well as in Arkansas, Texas, South Dakota, South Carolina and Maryland.
Police estimated as many as 35,000 flag-waving people jammed the streeets of Fayetteville, N.C., Sunday for a parade honoring troops arriving at nearby Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base.
With their military missions complete, domestic duties claimed top priority for many troops, including at least one who went from being newly returned to newlywed.
Rod Hanson, a Navy corpsman, married his fiancee, Julie Prilipp, in a late afternoon ceremony Saturday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, completing wedding plans postponed because of the war. He also saw his two-month-old son, Tyler, for the first time.
″I think he’s a precious gem,″ Hanson said. The newlyweds will have to wait a few days before their honeymoon - Hanson only had a weekend pass.
Another couple whose wedding plans were interrupted by the war got married despite the war - with a stand-in for the groom and help from a long distance phone connection.
Tammy and Air Force Sgt. Joe Elliott were engaged in November 1989 and were to be married a year later. But in August, he left for the Persian Gulf. On what was to have been their wedding day, Elliott telephoned his fiancee.
″He called and asked me to find out what we needed to do to get married,″ she said. After completing necessary paperwork, they were married Dec. 24 over the telephone, with Mrs. Elliott’s father standing in for his new son-in-law.
In the Persian Gulf, Elliott wore a rubber washer from an airplane part as his wedding ring. He was only too glad to replace it with the real thing Saturday at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.
″You don’t know how long I’ve waited to do this,″ Mrs. Elliott said, pulling a gold and diamond wedding band from the box and placing it on Elliott’s finger.
Another airman got to hug and kiss his new girlfriend for the first time last week. The couple got engaged after exchanging more than 260 cards and letters during the war.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Skip Johnstone, 29, was among the first troops sent to Saudi Arabia. At the time, he had never met Ann Musselman, 25, a native of Hinton, near Sioux City, Iowa.
During the war, after a blind telephone introduction from a friend, they began writing. They also exchanged video and audio tapes, decided they wanted to share their lives together and finally met when he returned to Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb.
″We will get married,″ Johnstone said. ″It will probably be early next year, or sooner.″
At Fort Hood, Texas, Becky Bieranowski welcomed two family members Saturday - when her infant daughter was born about an hour after the return of her husband, Army Sgt. Steve Bieranowski.
Bieranowski, with the 1st Cavalry Division, was one of 900 Fort Hood soldiers greeted by families and friends. At first, he couldn’t find his wife in the pandemonium.
She was sitting in a lawn chair, trying to hold off the inevitable. When he did find her she told him the news: ″I’m having contractions.″
Bieranowski, still wearing his desert fatigues, drove her to Darnall Army Community Hospital, where she gave birth to a girl about 30 minutes later, her fourth child.
While she was waiting for her husband to find her in the crowd, Mrs. Bieranowski echoed a familiar refrain among spouses left behind during the war.
″I was thinking, ’I wish he would hurry up and get here,‴ she said.