Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The 316th ESC Rifle Team took part in the 21-gun salute at a memorial on February 25, 2011, held to remember those killed in a 1991 SCUD missile attack
Recently, a 20th-anniversary passed that went largely unnoticed by mainstream media. It was a score of years after a seldom-remembered war, one largely overshadowed by the conflagration that followed it 12 years later. For those personally touched by that day 20-years ago, however, the date was noted solemnly and with reverence.
It was February 25, 1991, when 29 soldiers of the Greensburg, Pennsylvania-based 14th Quartermaster Detachment - an Army Reserve water purification team on deployment in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, during the First Gulf War - were killed when an Iraqi Scud missile struck the barracks. In addition to the 29 fatalities, 99 other soldiers were wounded. The attack was the single-largest loss of American lives during the short war.
On February 25, 2011, one of the father's of a fallen soldier - Frank Mayes - was part of a memorial honoring the victims. Mayes' daughter - Christine - enlisted directly from high school, where she spent a three-year tour of Germany. Shortly after her transitioning to the Army Reserves and beginning her college studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Mayes' Army Reserve unit was called to serve in Operation Desert Storm, the First Gulf War. According to her father, Mayes loved being a soldier.
Twenty years later, Mayes - joined by his wife, Darlene, and their two surviving daughters - were among the more than 200 people gathered in a tent outside the Army Reserve Center in Greensburg for a memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony to mark the solemn anniversary.
As typically happens at this event, there was a politician handy to say some self-serving words and pause for a photo-op for his campaign web site. "It's times like this that bring forth vivid memories as if this happened moments ago," said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy [R, Pa.]. Not exactly the Gettysburg Address, huh?
But the ceremony was not for Murphy's 2012 reelection run. It was for the families who live with the memory of lost loved ones. Paula Boliver Wukovich was a mother of two young children when her husband, vehicle mechanic Spc. John A. Boliver Jr., was killed in the Scud attack. The family had celebrated daughter Melissa's first birthday while visiting John at Fort Lee, Virginia, for deployment training the week before he left. Melissa is now 21. Paula Wukovich says son Matt, now 22, closely resembles John, except he's got red hair. "These were people. These weren't just names and a toll of a bell," Wukovich said after the memorial ceremony. "They had lives and families and people who loved them, and we don't want to forget that."
Kevin Keough was 10 years old when his brother, Spc. Frank S. Keough, deployed with the 14th Quartermaster at age 23. The brothers' birthdays were 13 years and one day apart, and as Kevin Keough gathered with his mother and other siblings at the memorial two weeks ago, he thought of his own children -- a young son, plus twin girls due in late April. "It's a shame because [my children will] never know him, and that part I hate," Keough said. "The circumstances, the things that he did for our country, I love and respect. It just, it hurts because I'll never get him back, you know?"
There was another man in attendance at the 20-year anniversary of the tragedy. Unlike those who were killed, however, he is not American. Cpl. James Newman, of the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force, was part of an infantry regiment on a routine perimeter patrol in Dhahran and happened to be driving toward the barracks when the Scud missile hit. Newman's four-man team arrived within minutes and began the difficult process of rescuing bodies, administering first aid and trying to clear remaining ammunition stores. "You're reflecting, [and] all of a sudden, all the pictures come back -- the smells, the sounds -- and it's like it happened yesterday," Newman recalled at the memorial. "You'll never forget that."
Nor should we.
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