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An Escalation in the Battle of Nerves : Families: What the wife of a Marine had planned as a relaxing break turns to anxiety with news of the start of the ground offensive.

February 25, 1991|KEVIN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TUSTIN — Debbie Guddeck had been looking forward to Saturday night for a long time.

In the six months since her husband, Marine Maj. William Guddeck, left for Saudi Arabia there had been little time for self-indulgence, not with three young boys battling for her attention and a war raging on.

But Saturday night was supposed to be different. A sitter had been found for the kids and a girlfriend had arranged a quiet dinner, soothing music and rented movies, and had obtained the services of a professional masseuse to loosen the tension that has been mounting by the week.

It wasn't long before the knots and stiffness returned, when early in their evening of escape word came that the U.S.-led allies had launched a long-dreaded ground war.

"We were having a good time, till then," Guddeck said Sunday, adding that the other women invited for dinner, some with loved ones in the Persian Gulf, chose to continue with their plans and tape-record the newscasts for later.

"After dinner, we watched (the movie) 'Beaches' and we cried. Then we watched the news and cried again."

Sunday, in her home located in the shadows of a giant aircraft hangar at the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, Guddeck watched the kids bounce from room to room and visited with Elizabeth Hudson, whose own Marine husband has yet to meet their 5-month-old daughter.

In between the bursts of activity stirred by the Guddeck boys, Debbie's thoughts were thousands of miles away with her husband, whom the kids lovingly call "Major Dad."

"When I watch television, I look, thinking I might see my husband," Guddeck said, picking at a half-eaten muffin one of the boys had left behind on the kitchen table. "I don't know where he is. I know that he is riding in a LAV (a light-armored vehicle). And I know he doesn't like that. I just hope that the phone doesn't ring and that there are no knocks on the door."

Guddeck said the television is rarely tuned to the news, and she doesn't bother to read newspapers. She said it's just her way of wading through months of loneliness and anxiety.

Although she fears for her husband, whose job is to direct air attacks from the ground, Guddeck said there was some relief in learning that a ground offensive had been launched.

"I really wanted them to do it," she said. "I don't trust (Iraqi President Saddam) Hussein. It was either now or never. Now is a good time because we have the United Nations behind us. Later, we might have been all alone."

For Hudson, too, the announcement brought conflicting emotions. But the war's new intensity means her husband's return is nearer, she said.

"We feel like we're on the downhill side," Hudson said, holding her tiny daughter. "Somebody said (a ground war) would take two weeks; now they are talking about days. Wouldn't that be great?"

One of the thousands of wives who have given birth while their husbands have been at war, Hudson said a friend accompanied her to childbirth classes, and the neighborhood greeted her return from the hospital with flowers and gifts.

Guddeck said her two older children are aware that a ground war has begun, but she said each of them has found his own way of dealing with the tension.

Billy, 8, said he doesn't like to talk about it because it "makes me sad." Guddeck said 5-year-old Keith's behavior has become noticeably more aggressive, while Chris, 2, calls out to framed pictures on the living room wall: "My daddy!" he exclaims.

In their husbands' absence, Guddeck and Hudson rarely talk about months or weeks. They measure time by the inches their children have grown or in the number of baby teeth gained or lost.

The Guddeck house was upbeat Sunday and there wasn't much talk of casualties or the other grim possibilities of war.

"When you stop and think about it, you get teary-eyed," Guddeck said. "But you try to keep it light. The way I think, the military can either break you or keep you together. It's really kept us together."

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