Tom Rominger’s success sort of went to his head. The 33-year-old Air Force technical sergeant’s mordant cartoons about life in the gulf—under the nom de plume Zorro—caught the eye of Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, who ran a few in his Jan. 27 Sunday space. Alas, one depicting a less-than-macho military barber caught the eye of the Marine who cuts Rominger’s hair in Riyadh (where he’s still stationed). The barber shaved a strip down the middle of Rominger’s head and handed him the original PEOPLE story (Feb. 25)—with its photo altered to make Rominger look bald.
“She begins, very softly, but unashamedly, to cry.” That was the last line of our Sept. 10 story about Air Force Maj. Jane Fisher, 35. The F-15 maintenance supervisor had been in Saudi Arabia for a month. Back in Yorktown, Va., her husband, Maj. Henry Fisher, 34, took on the role of both Major Dad and Major Mom to their children. Jayson, 11, and Mary Jean, 4, “The most important thing I can do for the kids,” he said then, “is to let them know Mom’s coming home eventually and that everything will be all right.”
Jayson spent the fall and winter building a secret fort, taking karate lessons and attending a support group for children with parents in the gulf. “Some of my friends had dads in Saudi,” he says, “but I was the only one who had a mom there.”
Little Mary took the separation harder. “Her fears showed up at night,” says Henry. “She’d get out of bed and sleep in the hallway. After about five months, she started sleeping in her own bed, but about 4 A.M., she’d wake up and get scared that I was gone and come screaming in and want to sleep in bed with me.”
On March 7, though, the stateside Fishers got good news. After seven months overseas, Jane was among the first troops to be sent home.
Stepping off the plane at Langley Air Force Base, Jane first noticed the almost forgotten smell of trees and green grass. Then, she says, “I saw Henry holding Mary. I thought. ‘Oh, gosh, I don’t want to cry in front of all these people.’ ”
Now, with Jane at home, the Fisher family is making up for lost time. “Jayson is not comfortable with me yet,” says Jane. “He doesn’t know whether to put his arms around me or be tough, be like a man. I don’t think Mary will have any problems.”
Henry has no doubt about his feelings. “When Jane got home.” he says, “we made passionate love for three hours…then we let go of the doorknob and put the suitcase down.”
Every war has its reluctant soldiers. They march off grousing about their fate, and sometimes they come back changed by the things they’ve seen and done. At least that’s how it works in movies. In real life there is Michael Ange (PEOPLE, Dec. 3), who went to the gulf on Nov. 19 kicking and screaming all the way. Now he’s back, and he’s angrier than ever.
The 27-year-old sergeant refused to ship out when his National Guard transportation unit left Fort Lee, Va., on Nov. 14. Instead, he sued the government, charging that President Bush’s deployment of troops violated the War Powers Resolution of 1973. “In the ’60s we ignored constitutional restrictions on the President, and we wound up in Vietnam,” said Ange, who also was a member of ROTC at Appalachian State University, where he was in his last semester, majoring in criminal justice.
Ange’s lawsuit was thrown out by a federal judge in December on the grounds that the judiciary could not involve itself in a foreign-policy dispute between Congress and the President. In the meantime Ange had joined his unit, the 1450th Transportation Co., which later saw action around Basra, and on April 20 they came home. Ange claims that his superiors harassed him in Saudi Arabia because of his political beliefs. “I have numerous documented eases where I’ve been denied legal counsel,” he says. “I plan to pursue prosecution of my commander.”
As for his future, Ange intends to get his degree. He says he does not foresee a future in the military. “I plan to seek immediate discharge from the National Guard.” he says.
Even as the trees quicken and green outside the redbrick home of Skip and Donna Beatty in Loveland, Colo., the yellow ribbons that adorn them have begun to fade and fray. The bows are in honor of Donna’s son and daughter-in-law, Army SFC David Wilson and SFC Virginia Wilson, who left their base in Germany in November and went off to war, leaving the Beattys in charge of the Wilsons’ three children. The Wilsons are still in Saudi Arabia—he’s an explosives-disposal expert and she’s a petroleum lab technician—but are due back in Germany some time in June. Skip, 60, and Donna, 57, are still caring for the couple’s children—Josh, 13, Melissa, 3, and Jessica, 8 months—and it has not been easy for the grandparents. Everyone in the family had the flu in February; Donna has been diagnosed with celiac-sprue, an intolerance to wheat products, and Skip has had back trouble and asthma. “We’re a lot older than we were three months ago,” he says.
At the same time, the children continue to grow. Josh has skied for the first time: Melissa’s vocabulary expands every day. “David and Virginia have missed so many special moments, and those moments are irretrievable,” says Donna.
In Saudi Arabia, Virginia Wilson is having the same thoughts. “It is so hard thinking of them growing up without us,” she wrote to the Beattys on Jan. 27. “They will seem like new people.”
For Skip, though, the hardest moment so far was a phone call from Virginia in early March. “Melissa got on the phone and said, “Mommy, are you coming to get me?’ That just choked Virginia up.”
In our Dec. 24 issue, Tonight Show guest host Jay Leno gave a first-person account of his whirlwind whirlybird tour of the troops in the gulf. Afterward, Leno says, “About every 10th person who asked for an autograph mentioned the story.”
While he was in Saudi Arabia, Leno, 41, had given his home telephone number to a group of servicemen, inviting them to call if they ever wanted to be in The Tonight Show audience. Three months later, eight newly returned GIs did just that and were present for the March 29 telecast. “I’m not going to pretend I made lifelong friends or anything. They’re not coming to my house and staying over,” Leno says of his GI fans. “You have people who were asked to do something, and they did it. And you thank them for it. That’s what the whole situation is about.”
The bombs were already falling when the story of Alex Molnar’s anguish and anger appeared in PEOPLE (Jan. 28). Molnar’s 22-year-old son, Chris, a Marine corporal, was in Saudi Arabia. Molnar, 45, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, wrote an eloquent antiwar letter to President Bush that appeared in newspapers around the world, and led 6,000 supporters and relatives of military personnel in a campaign to find a diplomatic solution.
Now Chris, who supported his father’s efforts, is home safe, but Molnar is still fighting. “If anything, my feelings have become stronger,” he says. His new fears—cuts in VA benefits, loss of jobs and medical insurance for reservists, long-term effects of unproven vaccines used on the troops—have kept him on leave from college and busy on the speakers’ circuit. “People have been very generous and supportive because they understand that I respect and support the troops,” he says. “My quarrel has been with the political leadership of this country.”
“I’ve never been in combat.” Marine Maj. Dave Johnson told PEOPLE in January. “I may feel different the first time I see those big orange golf balls coming at me out of somebody’s machine gun. But I’m confident I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
After a seven-month tour in the gulf, the 36-year-old helicopter pilot is back in Kaneohe, Hawaii, with the rest of the 463d Helicopter Squadron of the First Marines. He received his baptism of fire while piloting his Sea Stallion in Kuwait on Day 3 of the ground war. It wasn’t the orange tracer fire from machine guns that Johnson encountered, but an artillery attack on al-Jaber airport, where he was delivering troops and supplies. “Rounds started landing close enough for us to know that they were being aimed at us,” he says. “We could not hear a thing over the noise of the aircraft. We just saw bursts of smoke and explosions.”
Johnson’s reaction was that of a trained professional. “Mostly it was real interesting,” he says. “It wasn’t scary or alarming. There was a real sense of detachment in realizing, ‘Boy, somebody’s shooting at us.’ ”
Johnson landed his chopper long enough to unload. “Our load was mainly people, so it was a matter of sitting still long enough for them to run off the back of the aircraft,” he says. When he returned to al-Jaber on his next run 40 minutes later, the Iraqi artillery had been silenced.
Even though Johnson did not face enemy fire again, he had found some answers. “I had known what was going on and how to do what I was supposed to do,” he says, “and I took care of business.”
Watch out, America! Disco and Pisser have landed. The two gung ho Marine Corps aviators were flying high in their Harriers when PEOPLE profiled them on March 4. Mike “Pisser” Kenny, 26, and Mike “Disco” Beguelin, 30, had flown more than 20 missions each, and their adrenaline showed. “I get a kick out of combat,’ ” crowed First Lieutenant Kenny (who received his captain’s bars in the gulf). By the time Desert Storm ended, Kenny and Beguelin had notched 73 missions between them, and they’d had some hairy moments. ” ‘All of a sudden,” says Beguelin of one outing. “I got a face full of muzzle blast, flak bursting around my jet. Holy s—-, get me out of here!” Beguelin took part in bombing and strafing the infamous “Highway to Hell,” where retreating Iraqi troops were annihilated as they tried to flee Kuwait City.
Kenny’s worst moment came on the ground when an explosion, followed by air raid sirens, rocked him out of bed. The blast turned out to be an allied pilot breaking the sound barrier. For a brief moment, he says, “I had a feeling for what the Iraqis were experiencing—a sense of helplessness.”
On March 27, Disco and Pisser came home with their comrades from Marine Attack Squadron 542. Two of the group’s 24 fliers had been killed in action. ” ‘It makes you realize that you’re just a speck of dust and that there’s nothing keeping you around except some good luck, maybe.” says Beguelin, who, with his partner, is now back at the Cherry Point Air Station in North Carolina. Their current duties as the unit’s logistics officers, Kenny says jokingly, involve “keeping the grass mowed.”
Away from the war, Beguelin seems much mellowed. His mind easily drifts to “spending more time with Cheryl,” his wife of nine months. “I’m gonna buy her a flower,” he says. “Or take her out to dinner, drink a glass of wine and let her know how important she is in my life.”
Kenny, however, doesn’t seem to have changed at all. “The war taught me the sky’s the limit,” says Pisser. “I can do anything.”
Air Force Capt. Robert Apodaca spent the war in Falcon AFB, near Colorado Springs, monitoring the Navstar satellites that provided round-the-clock information for the forces in the gulf. Some part of Apodaca, though, will always be in the skies above North Vietnam where his father, Maj. Victor Joe Apodaca Jr., was lost on a reconnaissance mission 23 years ago. “With these satellites,” Apodaca, 27, told PEOPLE in January, “he could have flown above the clouds.” Since the article appeared. Apodaca has received hundreds of letters—from old friends and classmates and from people who knew his father. Two people sent him the MIA bracelets they have been wearing for more than 20 years, bracelets that carry the name of the father he will never know.
Pfc. Jerry Costello’s worst trauma came from the other war—the brutal civil war between Iraqis that began after Desert Storm ended. “It was pitiful seeing those people.” says the 22-year-old Army paratrooper, who came home April 3 after having been one of seven congressmen’s sons to serve in the gulf. (His father, Jerry Sr., an Illinois Democrat, supported President Bush’s handling of the gulf crisis.) “A 5-month-old baby without her mother was brought into camp with 11 gunshot wounds. Lots of children walked in by themselves, covered with fragments from bombs and mines. Children had their kneecaps shot off and bullets in their joints so they couldn’t walk. Iraqi soldiers would go into a home and shoot the children to make the parents talk.”
Costello had been with the 82nd Airborne in Saudi Arabia since early August. “We never entered Kuwait,” he says. “The first day of the ground war, we crossed into Iraq as part of the first wave of infantry, moving behind the mechanized troops.”
Back in Fort Bragg, N.C., Costello, a short-timer whose enlistment ends in October, is looking forward to life after the Army. “I’m going back to college [St. Louis University],” he says. “I’ll major either in English or political science, something that will help when I go to law school. I’d like to run for Congress like my dad someday. I’m very proud of him and the way he and my family handled themselves while I was away.”
The feeling, no doubt, is mutual.
Army Sgt. Daniel Stamaris was captured by the Iraqis after his helicopter crashed. Five of the eight crewmen were killed, and Stamaris, 31, suffered serious injuries, including a fractured pelvis and a broken leg. His captors hauled him around in a truck for three days without medical care or painkillers.
Freed when the war ended, he and 20 other POWs arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., on March 10. Stamaris, propped up in a gurney, his face gaunt from pain, caught the nation’s eye when he drew himself up and saluted.
The Lynnwood, Wash., native returned to Fort Rucker, Ala., on April 19. “He hasn’t really said much to me,” says his mother, Betty, who originally was told that he had been killed in action. “I guess he’ll tell me when he feels Mother’s ready.”