GIs Say Keep Cards And Letters Coming With PM-US-Gulf, Bjt
IN EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ The shower of letters, packages and banners for the U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf region is a far cry from the sendoff Joe Mobley got the last time he was in a war zone.
In 1968, he sailed aboard the USS Enterprise from San Francisco to Vietnam, where he would be held for four and a half years as a prisoner of war in America’s longest and most unpopular conflict.
″There were people throwing garbage at us from the Golden Gate Bridge,″ said Mobley, 46, now captain of the carrier USS Saratoga operating in the Red Sea.
In Operation Desert Shield, Americans at home are throwing bouquets in the form of 70 tons of mail every day.
It may be putting a big strain on the military’s mail service, but for the 230,000 U.S. service personnel deployed in the gulf region, it’s a big morale booster.
″All military men like to feel the citizens are behind them. It makes the job a lot easier,″ Mobley said. ″That’s a stark contrast to what most of us felt in Vietnam.″
Public support is as important as it is fickle. When public opinion turned against the Vietnam War a generation ago, campus demonstrations and civil riots turned into outright indignation against the military.
For now, the giant greetings cards and banners from school children, church groups and well-wishers help troops endure the harsh Saudi sands.
The Rural Retreat Elementary School in Wytheville, Va., for example, has adopted members of a platoon in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. The principal, a Vietnam vet, is the father of Pfc. Jimmy Phipps, 20, a machine gunner with the 82nd.
″If you don’t have people that care and you don’t have people behind you, you ain’t got nothing,″ Phipps said during a break from training.
″These guys live off mail. It’s like their blood,″ said Capt. Clint Esarey, 31, of Fort Lewis, Wash.
Mail from family, friends and loved ones is one thing. Sacks of letters, care packages and chocolate bars from strangers is something else.
″We’ve received countless pieces of mail from people we don’t know, have never heard of,″ said Marine Cpl. Christopher Francovich, 23, of San Francisco.
″Everytime I read them I get goose pimples. It touches us. It makes this little event here worth it for us. I’d like to thank the folks back home,″ Francovich said.
A hangar at an airfield in eastern Saudi Arabia is adorned with a giant white sheet trimmed with a yellow ribbon from an elementary school in Toms River, N.J. It has peace signs and Bart Simpson faces on it.
One note reads: ″I strongly suggest when you come back, party hearty. Marty.″
Another signed by Michael Tsambikou says: ″Kick some butt. Win 3/8″
In the same hangar are three giant cards collected from a shopping mall in Burlington, N.J., and a giant postcard from Delaware.
″I just want you to know all of Delaware is backing you and hoping for your safe return. When you’re sweating and eating less than delicious food, just remember that when you return, you can eat all the wonderful food you can stuff in your bellies,″ wrote Laurie Wheeler.
″It’s important to know you’re not forgotten, that somebody cares,″ said Lt. Kim Thompson, the female leader of a military police platoon in the 197th Infantry Brigade.
One package addressed to ″any Jewish soldier″ contained a Hanukkah kit, which would be impossible to get in a country that recognizes Islam as the only religion.
″Keep it coming. It boosts the morale of every soldier out here,″ said Staff Sgt. Joseph Herald, 34, of Olympia, Wash.
Most soldiers have only a cursory knowledge of the domestic debate about whether or not American troops should be deployed in the desert to counter Iraq’s aggression after its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
But they agree with those who say there should be popular support for their sacrifices or there’s no point in being in Saudi Arabia.
″The last thing we need is to have a war over there, a bloody war, and have American boys being brought back in body bags and yet not have the American people behind them,″ said Sen. Sam Nunn, a Georgia Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
″We’ve gone that route one time. We don’t need to do it again,″ Nunn said.
Those memories are alive in the minds of old hands and fresh faces alike.
″It’s almost overwhelming the support we’ve gotten from back home. That’s something we didn’t get in Vietnam,″ said Col. Glynn Hale, a brigade commander in the 82nd Airborne who served three tours in Vietnam.
″It never really struck me until we started getting all the letters and cards over here. It’s quite a change. These guys know they’re being appreciated over here,″ Hale said.
Marine Cpl. Carlin Walters, 21, of Vidor, Texas, remembers too.
″In the back of our minds, we don’t want to be treated like they were in Vietnam,″ he said. ″If I come home from this and and people decide to spit on me, ain’t no telling what I’ll do.″