An Early War Casualty: A Truck Full of GI Laundry

The day bombing started, a few things stopped.

Civilian laundry service for the 937th Engineer Group, to name one.

A laundry van with 57 bundles of clothes turned in several days before by soldiers from the engineer unit was scheduled to arrive about 12 hours after war began last week.

"It still hasn't shown up," said Staff Sgt. Liane Overstreet, 34, of Ibar-Overstein, Germany, the group's supply sergeant, "and he still has our laundry."

For some soldiers, she said, "it involves a couple of weeks of dirty clothes. We're only issued two sets of desert camouflage, so if you had one set in the laundry, the set you're wearing is it."Fears and Rumors

In the macho world of the Marines, it is not considered good form to admit fear of combat. But the uneasiness here is obvious in other ways. The troops say, for example, that they are content to sit out of harm's way for as long as it takes for the allied air campaign to soften up the Iraqi forces.

"At this point, they could bomb for another couple of weeks and it would be okay with me," said Capt. Bryan McCoy, 28, of Norman, Okla.

There are constant rumors sweeping through the units that, when chased down, turn out to be the product of nothing more than half-truths and fear-fueled imaginations. On Tuesday, Marines were overheard saying that nightly patrols were on the lookout for Iraqi suicide squads brought into Saudi Arabia on Soviet-built helicopters.

Col. Ron Richard, operations officer for the 2nd Marine Division, told reporters that the stories were not true, but they may have been built upon radio reports saying the Iraqi parliament had called for such suicide squads to take action against the allies. Gas Masks for Foreign Workers

When missile alerts sounded in the opening days of war, Filipino cook Felicito Hernandez pulled a large black plastic bag over his head.

Wednesday was the best day for him since the war began: He finally got a gas mask.

On Sunday night, when Iraq launched Scud missiles at the Saudi capital, Riyadh, an air base here was put on "black alert," meaning chemical weapons were suspected or present in the area.

U.S soldiers quickly donned gas masks and chemical suits, but the foreigners serving in the dining hall had none.

"It was sad to see them with plastic bags over their heads," said Senior Master Sgt. Robert Smolen, a member of the Air National Guard. "I couldn't believe it when I saw it. They may be third-country workers, but they are human beings."

Smolen said he applied some pressure, and the workers' employer, the Saudi Catering Co., supplied the masks. Confessions on the Rise

The Catholic chaplain at a desert base in eastern Saudi Arabia said yesterday that since the war began he has heard a lot more confessions from Marines.

"Since bombing started, they have begun to understand that this is for real," said Lt. J. Timothy Koester of Buffalo, who is known in these parts as "Father Tim."

"Fear has to be a big thing here," said the chaplain, a former parish priest. "The young Marines ask me if it's all right to be scared. I tell them I worry more about those who can't acknowledge their fear."

Koester travels to a dozen points in the desert to celebrate Mass and hear confessions. He said Marines have no difficulty practicing their faith in strictly Islamic Saudi Arabia.

"My experience is that the people of Saudi Arabia and the king have encouraged us to be strong in our faith," he said. Dance Club in the Desert

The 85th Evacuation Hospital in eastern Saudi Arabia has set up a dance club in a tent, complete with disc jockey and non-alcoholic beer.

"Near-beer for a near-good time," says Capt. Ralph Otte, the unit's chaplain from Oakland.

The dance club skirts the Saudi prohibition on male-female dancing.

"This is our compound. We can do that," said chief nurse Lt. Col. Linda Freeman of Waycross, Ga.

"We cover the women in black," quipped Lt. Col. Hudson Berry, an orthopedist. "We don't know the women we're dancing with."