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Desert Storm: Remembering a forgotten war

WRAL News and WRAL.com plan a series of stories in the coming days, Desert Storm: A Forgotten War, in which veterans will share memories of death, destruction, bravery, camaraderie and fear.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Where were you at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 16, 1991?

If you were among the more than 500,000 men and women deployed from the U.S. as part of Operation Desert Storm, you remember. You remember the fear and the uncertainty of a war than ended up lasting six weeks – a war that came to be called the "Nintendo War" or video-game war since, for the first time, the world watched live on television as the U.S.-led United Nations coalition resorted to war to eject Iraq from Kuwait.

For others, Desert Storm is a forgotten war, the memories overwhelmed by time.

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WRAL News and WRAL.com plan a series of stories in the coming days, Desert Storm: A Forgotten War, in which veterans will share memories of death, destruction, bravery, camaraderie and fear. Viewers and readers are welcome to add their thoughts.

The original "shock and awe"

Desert Storm has in many ways been overlooked amid the ongoing global war on terror, which has raged since 2001. The second Iraq war in 2003 that led to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein superseded Desert Storm in visuals and technology with the live video of Iraq's conquest.

But the Desert Storm invasion of Iraq was the original "shock and awe."

As the world watched, a team of intrepid CNN correspondents in Baghdad showed live video and shared commentary from their hotel rooms as the Iraqi capital was rocked, its skyline filled with streams of anti-aircraft fire. The noise of explosions reverberated unlike anything seen or heard since the movie "Star Wars" 14 years earlier.

Many of the coalition warriors were from North Carolina, with the rapid deployment forces of the U.S, spearheading the invasion.

The 4th Fighter Wing's two F-15E Strike Eagle squadrons from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro dropped far more bombs on opening night than the more highly publicized F-117 Stealth Fighters.

As the first stage of Desert Storm unfolded – the air campaign – one of its principal commanders and strategists was Air Force Gen. Buster Glosson, a graduate of North Carolina State University and a native of the Piedmont Triad.

Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune defended the Kuwaiti border while preparing for their role in a four-day ground war that would end Desert Storm six weeks later. Meanwhile, Marine air units joined the air campaign with strikes across Kuwait and as far north as the Iraqi city of Basra.

The entire Marine force went to war under the command of Gen. Walter Boomer, who grew up in the Northampton County town of Rich Square and graduated from Duke University.

Practically the entire XVIII Airborne Corps from Fort Bragg was in Saudi Arabia, with the 82nd Airborne Division having been among the first units sent to Saudi Arabia following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait the previous summer.

Under the command of Special Forces veteran Gen. Gary Luck, the XVIII Airborne would lead the left hook of the "Hail Mary" offensive directed by Allied Commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf that led to Iraq's defeat.

North Carolina also dispatched some 8,000 National Guard troops.

Why the faded memories?

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. John "Chainsaw" McCullough said he has much more to worry about than remembering the war. His 25-year-old son, Ryan, is a Blackhawk helicopter mechanic in the Army who just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.

McCullough said he remembers praying and making audiotapes nightly during Desert Storm to share with Ryan, who was then 5 years old. Now, he prays for his son while he works as a financial adviser in Goldsboro.

"I was playing golf with a friend the other day, and we talked about Desert Storm and why so few people remember," he said. "In the 1980s, when we joined the Air Force, we called the Vietnam veterans the 'old guys.' Now we're 'the old guys.'"

McCullough was the "tail-end Charlie" among the 22 F-15Es from Seymour Johnson that flew missions on opening night against fiercely defended Scud missile sites in western Iraq. He still remembers every mission as if it were yesterday.

He and a few friends from the 4th Wing who also are retired in Goldsboro plan an unofficial reunion on Saturday and Sunday. Some other F-15E fighter pilots and their weapons officers are gathering in Florida, he said.

One major official remembrance is set for Tuesday in Houston at President George H.W. Bush's library. A symposium will include Bush, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Desert Storm, and Dick Cheney, who was the secretary of Department of Defense at the time.

"It’s a very natural thing," said Walt Boomer, a retired Marine who now lives in South Carolina, when asked about the faded memories. "It's not thought about that much because they are so consumed now and also by what they have been doing for the past decade."

Remembering in Fayetteville

Memories will be stirred in Fayetteville on Sunday – at least momentarily.

"Twenty Years after the Storm: The Persian Gulf War Remembered" is set for 2 to 4 p.m. at the Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex, at 801 Arsenal Ave. Three Desert Storm veterans – one each from the Army, Air Force and Marines – will share memories, present memorabilia and discuss various aspects of the war in a panel discussion.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Sion Harrington III, the military collection archivist at the state Division of Historical Resources in Raleigh, will lead the discussion.

"It should be interesting to hear these veterans reflect on where they were and what they did, and how they perceive it through the filter of two decades," Harrington said.

Other panelists include Jim Greathouse, who served in the Air Force, and Paul Peeples, a former Marine. Peeples is a volunteer at the museum, while Greathouse's wife is the museum's education director.

Chris Woodson, who works at the museum, served with the 142nd Field Artillery Brigade of the Arkansas National Guard. The battery, which was attached to the U.S. Army's VII Corps, fired hundreds of 8-inch shells in support of the British 7th Armored "Desert Rats" division during the four-day ground war that brought Desert Storm to a close.

"We started kicking the idea around a year ago," Woodson said. "It seems like time flies. All of a sudden, it's been 20 years.

Anniversaries have been observed in the past, but as the years have stretched on and Desert Storm turned into a continued U.S. military presence in the Middle East, they have received less attention.

Five years ago, retired Air Force Gen. Bob Springer, a long-time military consultant to WRAL News, recalled Desert Storm's opening night. He noted that all of the conflict since then have helped dilute attention paid to that 42-day war.

"It has now been fifteen years since the first strikes against Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi force," Springer wrote for WRAL.com. "There have been other conflicts in the intervening years. We have seen major conflict in Bosnia, Afghanistan and, of course, Iraq. We have seen horrific attacks on our own country on 9/11. We have also witnessed attacks on American facilities and citizens around the world. ... All of these and other terrorist attacks have claimed the lives of Americans.

"It is no longer Desert Storm," Springer continued. "That was successfully concluded nearly 15 years ago. It is now a Global War on Terror ... and we must successfully conclude this war one day as well."


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