Desert Storm: Thanksgiving in the Persian Gulf
When I was growing up in Southern California, Thanksgiving was usually a potluck dinner at our neighbors house. He’d set up a table outside in his driveway, and everyone would show up. Yeah, it was outside. November in Los Angeles was still pretty warm out, though we would have said it was starting to get cold. While I was at Fort Lewis, the Mess Hall would have a big Thanksgiving meal. The officers and the platoon sergeants would put on their dress blues and serve the lower enlisted food. It was also usually the best meal of the year in the Mess Hall. Thanksgiving food is like putting on your best clothes.
Thanksgiving in Saudi Arabia was the same way. The holiday was on November 22, 1990, which put it just about month or so since we’d arrived. I look at it now and think that it wasn’t that long, and yet, at the time, it felt like many months had already passed us by. Maybe that was the effect of how our days were structured. Every day, we woke up, had formation, and went to work, and when we were done working, we tried to keep from being bored. There were no weekends, and if we hadn’t been keeping track of the days, the holiday could have easily passed us by.
My squad leader came by and told us that President Bush was visiting. He could send one person, and I was the one he picked. It was exciting, and not entirely because the President of the United States was coming. I’d also be getting out of the tiny world of our camp, which had become very claustrophobic. It was also difficult for me at times because I was an introvert and introverts need to be alone to recharge, and in that small world, I was never alone.
We were bussed out to the same airport that our plane landed in. It had been turned into a stage for a giant audience. Sometimes when I show up at places and all the women are wearing the same color, someone will say, “We all got the memo.” For this, we were all told to be in the same uniform, the desert camoflauge, so it was a sea of brown.
A long line filed into the audience area of thousands of soldiers. Just packed. I remember seeing a soldier’s chemical kit scattered on the ground and trampled under his feet and thinking that he was going to be in a lot of trouble. We passed a roped off area of Air Force One and black vehicles.
I don’t remember anything about the President’s speech. Evidently, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me then, either:
“Yesterday, I went up and saw the President at the Royal Saudi Air Force Base (I was the short one in the back). He gave a ten minute speech.” — My recorded notes on the visit of the President, November 23, 1990.
After that, I came back, and we were all treated to Thanksgiving food that had come in with the President. It was all the traditional food: Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes. We could eat all we wanted. The Army had even decorated the tent. I remember there was a huge table decoration in the middle of the room, set up on a table. I don’t remember what the decoration was, but I do remember the Mars bars scattered all over the base of it. I stuffed my shirt pockets full of candy bars because it would be a long time before I would see any more.
Up until I’d deployed, I kept saying to myself that he would resolve this, and now we were here and and nothing had been resolved. And the reality was that once I went back, still nothing would be resolved, and the next day would start, the same as the day before Thanksgiving. War would still wait for us.