The pain has never gone away, even after 12 years. But at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday, as Annette Brown remembered the son she lost in the Persian Gulf War, it was particularly intense.
"It hurts as a mother," said Brown, who wore a photograph of her smiling son, 21-year-old Army Pfc. Timothy Shaw, on her lapel. "It's something you never get over. And today, with our having to go back, the pain is terrific."
As the United States prepares to launch a new war with Iraq, those who lost loved ones in the last one gathered at Arlington for the 12th annual remembrance ceremony honoring their sacrifice.
For those families, as one speaker noted, the Gulf War did not end in 1991 with parades and marching bands. As the rest of the nation celebrated and moved on, the war left those families with an enduring loss. Now the buildup for a new war has stirred many emotions for them, perhaps sadness more than any other.
"It's more intense now, because I think of the mothers who may have to go through what I have and what I'm still dealing with," said Brown, a resident of Alexandria. Shaw, her only child, was killed Feb. 25, 1991, when his Army unit was hit in Saudi Arabia by an Iraqi Scud missile.
Shaw's cousin, 7-year-old Daleth Holley, was one of two dozen young children who placed white roses at the base of a Gulf War memorial at Arlington yesterday in honor of their fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts. An honor guard placed more roses by the snow-covered graves, marked with small U.S. flags, for 12 Gulf War service members buried at Arlington.
The families of 25 Americans killed in the war were among the 200 in attendance, along with Kuwaiti Ambassador Salem Abdullah Jaber Sabah and representatives of other countries that suffered casualties, including France, Egypt, Italy and Qatar. The ceremony, sponsored by the organization No Greater Love, marked the 12th anniversary of the official cessation of hostilities with Iraq on March 3, 1991.
During the afternoon ceremony, as a gray, overcast sky broke up to reveal patches of blue, the likelihood of U.S.-led forces again attacking Iraq was not lost on anyone. "If they do, there will be sacrifices, and no one in this country should forget what sacrifice means," said the State Department's Ryan Crocker, deputy assistant secretary for Arabian Peninsula and Northern Gulf affairs.
That included, Crocker told the families, those in the U.S. government directing foreign policy. "I want you to know . . . we don't forget it, either," he said.
Several family members seemed resigned to another war. Like others, Brown said she hoped war would be avoided. But if it comes, she added, "I have to stand behind our men and women in uniform."
Timothy Shaw was born in the District and grew up in Northern Virginia and Prince George's County, attending Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County and graduating from Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro. During the buildup to the Gulf War, he was working toward a business degree from Prince George's Community College.
His loves included gospel music and being a soldier. In January 1991, his Army Reserve unit, the 14th Quartermaster Detachment, was sent to Saudi Arabia.
Shaw had been there for about a week when, on the second day of the ground war, a Scud missile exploded in the warehouse in Khobar where the unit was staying, killing 28 reservists and injuring 99.
"With all that's going on with Saddam Hussein, it's just like yesterday," said Brown, who works at Georgetown University Hospital.
Another family in attendance yesterday was that of Army Spec. Jeffrey Colbert, of Middletown in Frederick County, who served with the 101st Airborne Division during the Gulf War. Three years later, back in the region as part of Operation Provide Comfort, Colbert was killed when his Black Hawk helicopter was mistakenly shot down over northern Iraq by a U.S. Air Force fighter.
For his father, Butch Colbert, the irony of a new war to topple Hussein is that his son's unit was in place to do that when the Gulf War ended, just 150 miles from Baghdad. "All the fellows said they should have kept going," he said.
Colbert said he would rather not see others have to finish that job. "I would like to see them resolve it without war," he said.
"It brings back a lot of memories," added Cindy Colbert, Jeffrey Colbert's stepmother. "It's difficult to watch the news. It's painful."
Those who died, the Army's vice chief of staff, Gen. John M. Keane, told the families, "demonstrated a willingness to risk everything they cared about in life," including their own chance to live full lives and raise families.
Said Keane, "We do remember, and we are forever in their debt."