When a war lasts only six weeks--about as long as Lent or the NBA playoffs--everything necessarily happens at double-time. Conquest, death, even fame.
From whatever imminent moment the diplomats and tacticians fix as "V-K Day," the official end of the war, the memory machine begins to replay itself.
This truncated war has elevated unremarkable people and places to sudden and sometimes unwelcome celebrity, klieg lights burning them into the public mind. Now it is over; the lights are switched off. Attentions and emotions veer elsewhere, and all that is left is epilogue.
In the conflict's wake is a new grave and plans for a family cabin that now may never be built. There is a four-star general, fired by the Pentagon for his frankness then hired by CBS for his savvy, once again looking for work. There is a little street in East Los Angeles that obtained unsought celebrity by sending off five sons to the fight. There are the daily telephone calls between the dead soldier's wife and a buddy of the dead soldier, one of seven who were the first to fall in ground combat.
Assembled, such faces and places as these compose abiding reminders of America in war. For war can be gauged not only by miles of battlefield overrun or armaments captured but also by the marks it leaves on the spirit of the nation and the men and women who waged it.
Tom Jenkins had hoped to retire to his ranch on Bull Creek in a few years and raise cattle with his only son, Thommy. They were going to "modernize" the 160-acre spread and build a house and cabin.
Now, Tom and Joyce Jenkins must decide if they want to go it alone.
Their son, Marine Lance Cpl. Thomas A. Jenkins, was killed in battle Jan. 29 in a light-armored vehicle at the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. His freckled, stern gaze, frozen on the cover of Time magazine, became a tearful reminder of the sacrifice small towns across America have made for freedom.
"The hurt may go away a little with time, but the feelings remain," said Harvey Tomlinson, a family friend who watched Thommy grow up at the ranch in the rural Sierra foothills of California's Mariposa County. "This is not going to go away in a day, a week, a month or a year. And we feel that.
"Death is forever."
Tom Jenkins, a foreman for the state Department of Transportation, and Joyce, who drives a school bus, have gone back to work, but their lives are not their own. About 30 letters a day arrive at the gray wooden house at the end of Ferry Road in Coulterville, and the phone rings straight through supper. Seven grocery bags of mail await their attention.
"Last night we got one from Missouri, tonight Kentucky," Tom Jenkins said. "We are just overcome with . . . it all." There has not been much time to get out to the ranch these days, he said. He does not know whether he has the heart for it, anyway.
War has meant two rather spectacular job changes for former Air Force Chief of Staff Michael J. Dugan.
On Sept. 17, the four-star general was fired for discussing, in an interview with The Times and The Washington Post, intended allied bombing targets in Iraq.
With the war wrapping up, Dugan will be leaving his second job as military consultant to CBS News, which hired him the day war started.
"I have gotten a kick out of talking to 12 million people a night," Dugan said, even though "one minute 20 seconds doesn't make it very interesting."
His frankness is unchanged: "I thought there was great utility in the military story being told in the press better than it had been told in the past," a belief that got him fired from the Air Force and hired at CBS. Network military consultants "have contributed to telling that story well, providing increased credibility."
With the war over, he is casting about for work. "I've learned consulting is a spectator sport, and if there's something I've enjoyed over the last several years, it's being responsible, being in charge, and that certainly doesn't go with consulting."
What happened in September leaves him with "no excuses, no regrets, no explanations. I'm not apologetic about anything I've done."
By the way, most of Dugan's tactical disclosures turned out to be on target.
There were "two explosions" that changed Navy Corpsman Clarence Dean Conner's life.
The first one, on Jan. 17, drove a red-hot, arrowhead-size piece of shrapnel into his right arm, winning him the first Purple Heart of the Gulf War.
"The second boom went off when I came home to Hemet and everybody wanted to interview me, or invite me to dinner, or shake my hand, or just say hello," said Conner, 21.
Conner came home Feb. 15 and found his grandmother's trailer getting crowded with letters, plaques and awards. One from his old high school honors his grandmother just for being, as the plaque reads, "the grandmother of the first recipient of a Purple Heart in the Persian Gulf War."