AMMAN, JORDAN -- Dick Clay, a burly German-Irish Hoosier with mustache and beer belly, doesn't look much like a Filipino. But he made a daring escape from Kuwait disguised as one -- with fake Philippine documents ingeniously forged by a friend.
Clay, 46, managed to slip across the Iraqi-Jordanian frontier last week with 34 Filipino workers by pretending he was one of them. His week-long flight took all the ingenuity of World War II prisoners' flights from Stalag 17. He had to hide for three days in Baghdad -- swarming with members of Saddam Hussein's secret police and their army of informers -- and tough out a heart-stopping encounter with Iraqi border guards who thought he was a Marine.
His one-page travel document was a masterpiece of fakery. A Filipino instrument technician spent 10 laborious days duplicating the Philippine Embassy seal and creating a long inscription in tiny English characters.
The stamp was fashioned from a rubber shower sandal; the black ink was made royal purple by diluting it with milk.
On paper, the American construction manager Richard Eugene Clay became Ricardo Erazo. His hometown of Bloomington, Ind., where his wife, Claudia, and their three children were waiting, became Batangas City in the Philippines.
"I was hiding in Kuwait until the Iraqis said they'd hang anyone who helped shelter foreigners," Clay said in an interview. "Then I figured it was time to go."
That was Aug. 20, almost three weeks after Iraq overran Kuwait. By then he was ready.
Even with his false papers prepared, Clay's appearance posed problems.
Filipinos tend to be small and slender, dark-eyed and dark-haired. Clay's face is a great red expanse of rugged terrain, with a prominent sunburned nose and distinctly European eyes. And he has a large U.S. Navy tattoo on his right hand.
He pulled a baseball cap down low over his brown hair, wore large sunglasses and disappeared into a roomy long-sleeved shirt. It didn't help much, but he had no choice.
In Kuwait, Clay supervised 500 Filipino and Indian workers at R.W. Kellogg, a U.S. contractor that maintained two oil refineries in the emirate. He accounted for all but four of his workers and then prepared to escape himself.
Food and water were gathered and stashed away. Exit documents were sought. A route was planned.
"When everything else was ready, I told 'em to go out and steal two buses," Clay said. By then the Filipinos were desperate to leave the gulf state where some had worked for a decade.
"I know of one case where 12 Iraqi soldiers raped a Filipino lady," Clay said. "They killed her brother when he tried to help her. That's a fact. She was still in the hospital when I left."
Clay left behind $85,000 in the bank and an apartment full of belongings that he doesn't expect to see again.
His small convoy made it to Baghdad after two traffic accidents and some close shaves on the border. At each roadblock, Filipino friends stood in the bus door and passed out his papers.
The group was stuck in Baghdad for three days, which Clay spent huddling between the others in a car or hiding in three hotel rooms with 128 others.
He rented another bus, paying the equivalent of $5,000, for the seven-hour drive to the Jordanian border. By then his party had grown by 25 Filipino women.
His troubles didn't end when he reached the border. He had to spend three days hiding among dozens of real Filipinos under a makeshift shelter at a squalid, desperate no-man's-land camp before the Jordanians could process the refugees.
Once there, he sent scouts to find a Westerner.
They found Jim Nuttal of Save the Children, who saved Clay.
But the tough part was getting out of Iraq. Clay cleared every hurdle, finally garnering the treasured exit stamp on his false travel document. Then, at a last check before they crossed into Jordan, an Iraqi guard stuck his head into the bus.
He glared at Clay and said: "Marine?"
"Filipino," said Clay.
The Iraqi took him off the bus for six hours of interrogation.
But his friends rallied around him. They piled their luggage across the road, insisting that if Clay was returned to Baghdad, they'd go too.
They scuffled with Iraqi guards swinging truncheons. Finally one woman barged into the border office, wailing that she could not be separated from her uncle.
Eventually the stern-faced Iraqi handed back Clay's document and waved him onward.
With a trace of a smile, he said: "Goodbye, Marine."