When it started last August, Iraq had the fourth-largest army in the world, and the United States was said to have little stomach for war. When it was over, seven months later, Saddam Hussein’s military machine was no longer an international threat, and the United States had purged itself of the ghost of Vietnam. We had successfully led 25 other countries in the largest military alliance since the Korean War. Even those with misgivings about the fighting supported the 540,000 members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force—including 30,000 women—who left their families for the Persian Gulf. At times it felt as if all America was over there with them, as we stayed glued to round-the-clock television coverage of both the air war and the 100-hour coup de grace on the ground. We cheered the victory; we breathed a grateful sigh of relief when the casualty count came in low—263, fewer than the number killed on the nation’s highways on an average holiday weekend. In this special issue, PEOPLE captures the emotion and drama of battle—and the anguish of those waiting back home. Wrapped in a yellow ribbon, this package contains the unforgettable stories of the heroes (and, yes, a few of the villains) of the short, sharp war that helped a country feel good about itself again.