SANTA ANA — John and Michelle Richert spent the last 4 1/2 months in Kuwait, and they were terrified.
In a country they had considered home, the Richerts made a fragile fortress out of a second-floor apartment by covering the windows with blankets and sealing the doors with towels to block noise. They had heard too often about fellow Westerners dragged into the streets by Iraqi soldiers.
"Try to imagine keeping a burglar out of your apartment 24 hours a day," said Michelle Richert on Friday. "And if that burglar gets in, he's the one who would take you to jail. You don't sleep. You don't know what to do. You can't even cook because the smell would give you away."
The Richerts, both 31, will be spending Christmas with their families in Orange County, but they say they can't stop thinking about their friends, their home and the American troops on the line in the desert.
The Richerts flew out of Kuwait on Dec. 9 after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein decided to release the hostages.
Pale and tired-looking, the Richerts told reporters at a news conference organized by Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) on Friday they believe sanctions will not stop Hussein's brutality in the Middle East and force him to withdraw.
"Our thoughts are with the (American) troops," Michelle Richert said. "But if there was ever a cause to fight, this is it. If Hussein is allowed to continue, he will research for nuclear weapons. And once he gets hold of them, he will use them."
The Richerts said that when Kuwait was first attacked Aug. 2, they were not afraid and did not immediately go into hiding, because they did not think they were in danger. But then, Iraqi troops began swarming their town, Abu Halifa, which is 15 miles outside Kuwait City.
John Richert, an engineer at the Santa Fe Co., said his employer offered to drive families through the desert to escape to Saudi Arabia, but they thought that the trip would be too dangerous. Instead, they hid in two apartment buildings, where other Westerners also found refuge. The Richerts spent their waking hours listening to a short-wave radio for news, watching videos and reading books.
Though safe at home now, the Richerts eventually want to return to Kuwait. "We would go back immediately, if we could," Michelle Richert said. "We want to help the people build back their homes."