SANTA ANA — Grateful, and sometimes tearful, friends and relatives of troops stationed in the Persian Gulf took advantage Friday of a new American Telephone & Telegraph service allowing them to fax messages to their loved ones free.
About 90 people, mostly wives and girlfriends of servicemen from El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, sent messages from the AT&T Phone Center at the MainPlace shopping mall. With their children clutching baby bottles and darting between phone displays, mothers watched as their letters were fed into fax machines festooned with yellow ribbons.
The scene was repeated in more than 400 other locations nationwide, and an estimated 3,000 people used the service, called DESERT FAX, AT&T spokeswoman Daylanne Jackson said. The project will cost AT&T more than $1 million.
"It's so touching. As they're faxing, tears come into their eyes," said store manager Elaine Diersing at the AT&T Phone Center in Santa Ana. "They're putting in pictures of their kids, and the kids are drawing pictures that say, 'To daddy.' One woman came in here (Friday) morning, and she's coming back this afternoon with her kids."
Karen Weiss, 38, and her son, Billy, sent her husband, Marine Capt. William John Weiss, a letter that said: "Keep your spirits high and your head low! We will roll out the red carpet on your return home. With love always, Karen and Billy." The letter included an illustration of a caped Cleveland Browns player, Ozzie Newsome, wearing No. 82, and the phrase, "Go Browns!" repeated five times.
"(Browns quarterback) Bernie Kosar is his favorite player, but I couldn't get a picture of him. Eighty-two is Billy's number," Weiss said. "If I could send him anything, besides myself, it would be a six-pack of beer and a videotape of a Cleveland Browns game. One that they won."
Weiss said the fax program would increase morale of both the families at home and the servicemen stationed abroad.
"If the husbands know the wives are fine, they can withstand anything," she said.
The fax service allows letters to be delivered to troops up to a week sooner than the 10 to 12 days it takes for regular mail, Diersing said. And it will remain in operation indefinitely, enabling families and friends to send single-page messages from any of 29 locations in Southern California.
"We wrote to let him know we miss him and hope to see him real soon," Aretha Scott, 30, of El Toro said of her husband, Marine Staff Sgt. M.A. Scott. "I'm not worried--very positive about the whole situation. He can take care of himself."
Others, though, were not as confident.
"I'm very worried about him going into war and chemicals," Joannie Beaver, 30, said of her husband, Frank.
Beaver's two sons, Anthony and Frank, ages 2 and 3, watched intently as the letter was fed into the fax machine. Anthony had drawn a heart and signed his name in large capital letters with some help from his mom.
"They talk about him all the time," Beaver said. "They ask about him and want to know when he's coming back. We wrote just to tell him we love him and miss him and mushy, mushy stuff."
Laura Hinz, 23, of El Toro said she sent a message to her fiance, Sgt. Michael Maxwell. The couple had to postpone their August wedding indefinitely because of his assignment to the Persian Gulf.
"You can't have a wedding when he and all his best men are going," Hinz said. "I always worry about him. I'm worried that he's working too hard. I'm worried that he's not eating right. I'm worried that we're going to war. I'm worried that it's too hot for him."
Lisa Keel-Burke, 23, accompanied Hinz and faxed her own letter to her husband, Marine Sgt. Scott Burke, who serves on C-130 cargo planes with Hinz's fiance.
"When they get this, it will be a surprise. It'll make their day," Hinz predicted.
Although Hinz and Keel-Burke praised the new program, they added that it would not replace phone calls, on which they have each spent as much as $500 a month.
"A lot of people can't talk to their husbands or boyfriends, but if I couldn't talk to him, I'd be down here every day (to fax messages)," Keel-Burke said.
"You need to hear their voice," Hinz added. "Sometimes it gets so bad you want to pull your hair out."