Inside the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, Americans battled endless tense days with limited food, water and power and plenty of flies. Iraqi soldiers ringed the compound, and Baghdad Radio broadcasts that anyone hiding foreigners would be hanged at gallows were far from reassuring.
"I think my worst moment was when I heard the first broadcast on the radio that Hussein had sentenced to the gallows anyone harboring a U.S. citizen," said Jack Rinehart of Stover, Mo., who helped dig a 15-foot well in the six-acre embassy compound.
"We tried to make a life there as best we could, but these broadcasts would scare the hell out of you," said Rinehart, a designer of air-conditioning motors, who built an outhouse and rigged makeshift showers with garden hoses. The embassy's water and power supply was cut off Aug. 24.
Shortly after the Aug. 2 invastion, the compound was filled with an unknown number of Americans. At the end of August and in early September, women and children, along with some ailing men, were allowed to leave. By last week, only 27 Americans remained in the compound. The embassy has only five diplomats left, according to the State Department.
In interviews with several Americans detained at the embassy for more than four months, some of whom asked not to be identified, life was described as monotonous and tense.
Each person was assigned a shift to guard one of the two gates. The group spent much of its time planning strategies in case Iraqi soldiers stormed the compound. At all times, dozens of Iraqi soldiers in camouflage and khaki-colored fatigues ringed the embassy.
For a few hours each afternoon, there were lights in the embassy, fueled by the embassy's main generator, according to Gale Rogers, consul at the embassy and former Arlington resident who arrived at Andrews Air Force base Tuesday night. In the evening, people read and talked beside kerosene lamps fashioned from baby food jars filled with diesel fuel, Rinehart said. He said bleach was poured into pool water to decontaminate it for drinking.
Many woke at dawn because they were covered with flies, which were jokingly referred to as the "the national bird of Kuwait" in the embassy. "We had what we called the 5 a.m. fly-swat," Rinehart said.
"Life inside for the most part was boring," Rogers said. "We were deprived of water and electricity. . . . There was heat and flies, and cold and flies."
Many people outside the compound called to offer food and other help but were told to stay away, several hostages said.
So many people crowded into the embassy compound soon after the invasion that Rinehart said he slept outside on a chaise longue. There was so much sand blowing in the air that every morning he had to empty the grit off his bed. "It was horrible. It was extremely hot and extremely dirty."
Each day was essentially the same: breakfast of Nabisco "Shreddies," a spoonsize shredded wheat cereal, sugar and powdered and super-pasteurized milk that did not need refrigeration. Lunch was tuna and rice. Dinner was tuna and rice. After dinner, a vote was taken on which movie to see on the VCR, which was powered by a smaller generator than the one that powered the lights. Among the movies in the embassy library were "Paint Your Wagon" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
From the roof of the embassy and through its gates, several hostages saw Iraqi troops looting the city. "There were trucks filled with everything you could imagine: appliances, chairs, couches," said B. George Saloom, a data processing manager from San Diego.
"I spent four months thinking I would never see my family again. I spent a lot of the time thinking I was imprisoned, and I hadn't done a darn thing. Why me?" Rinehart said. "I was just on a business trip. I was mad as hell about it. I still am."
As Rinehart boarded a plane at National Airport for his Missouri home, where his wife and two daughters were waiting, he added, "I'm going to go home and enjoy Christmas and put this behind me. It was an ugly time in my life."