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The Line in the Sand : The Fate of Kuwait and Beyond : The Home Front : 'They Didn't Take an Oath to Keep Gas at $1.29 a Gallon' : Americans support the GIs in the gulf. But they are troubled by a mission that has goals they either oppose or find obscure.

November 25, 1990|KAREN TUMULTY and TOM REDBURN and EDWIN CHEN

The Persian Gulf crisis is hardly four months old, but already it has troubled Americans in special ways, making them a people anxious about war--the people in the 4400 block of North Oakland Avenue, for instance, in Shorewood, Wis.

There, along a strip of storefront offices, is the Military Families Support network--a group of unlikely foot soldiers in this country's reawakening peace movement. Hardly political radicals, these are solid Middle Americans. Even their headquarters bespeaks the heartland. Tucked in alongside a picture-framing shop and a tanning salon, it is flanked by a bank and a barbershop.

Amid a tangle of wires and stacks of mail, conservatively dressed and mostly middle-aged men and women staff telephones, fax machines and personal computers. Far from the college students who first protested the Vietnam War, they are the parents and wives of soldiers--like Alex Molnar, founder of the group, who has a Marine son in Saudi Arabia.

They do not want their children--or their husbands--to risk their lives in a conflict whose rationale they either oppose or find troublingly obscure.

Similarly, Judy Davenport in Charleston, S.C. Her husband, Larry, is a boiler technician chief on a Navy ship in the Middle East. Judy, 39, and her youngest son, an eighth-grader, live in military housing at the Naval Weapons Base in Goose Creek, S.C. She drives a pickup truck. Painted on the back window are the words: "No War." It gets her and her son a ration of grief. They have been ostracized.

"We support our troops no matter what," she declares. "They took an oath to defend our country and uphold the Constitution. But they didn't take an oath to keep gasoline at $1.29 a gallon."

Judy runs a temporary-employment business. Nonetheless, her husband's absence is a hardship.

So is opposition to her activities. Officials at the weapons base have told her to quit giving interviews on military property.

Harassment is a hardship, too. Sometimes it comes when the going gets toughest.

But she tries to buck up. "It hasn't been too bad--just some middle-of-the-night nasty phone calls."

There is a tiny note of scorn in her voice reserved for college students, who were at the forefront of the anti-war movement during Vietnam but are hardly heard from now.

"You'd see a different reaction," she snaps, "if they were draftable."

As for the telephone calls and the military who will not let her speak on her husband's base, she is adamant. "My activities are my personal business," she says. "My husband's in the military to protect my freedom of speech."

Some women who oppose war say their kin, far away in the Middle East, feel the same way.

"We don't oppose the multinational defensive role," says Tracy Meyer, a 28-year-old Falls City, Neb., woman whose cousin is a U.S. commander in Saudi Arabia. But she and others criticize what they see as the Administration's absolute refusal to consider non-military alternatives until Iraq withdraws from Kuwait. They fear that President Bush has locked their husbands and their sons onto a course--without sufficient public debate--that will lead to a bloody conflict.

Meyer refuses to give the name of her cousin, the commander. She cites concern for his well-being.

But she adds: "He feels the way I do."

Nor are all of these dissenters women. Bill White in San Antonio, who flew 136 missions over Vietnam and prosecutes narcotics cases in Bexar County, Tex., thinks Congress has been "laying behind the log."

Congress, White said, should be challenging Bush to define and explain his policies.

"Now is the time to have an open debate and see where our objections are," White says. He has both a son and a daughter in the gulf region. "We started out in Vietnam approving the policy--and then wound up condemning our troops.

"Let's not let that happen again."

Like Bill White, Brenda Jarmon has two kin in the gulf: her daughter and her daughter's husband. Their names are Lynette and Isaac Guthrey, and they, too, have a daughter. She is one of a number of youngsters in America who are calling this crisis "mom's war."

Because Lynette and Isaac are both in the Army, daughter Ikea, 2 1/2, has been shipped off to Tallahassee, Fla., to live with her grandmother.

"It's sad when military mothers are taken away from their children and sent to a potential war zone," Brenda Jarmon says.

"My granddaughter has the potential of losing both parents."

Donnita Cole, too, is worried about war.

She has festooned her modest home in Odessa, Tex., with yellow ribbons. Her son is an American soldier in Saudi Arabia; her husband is a human shield somewhere in Iraq. And she is about to defy her government by going to the Middle East.

Cole, 48, wants to see her husband--and hopes to gain his release.

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