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War In The Gulf: Daddy's Girl Crystal Mercado Veterans: This War Will Be Different Most Suggest Number Of Casualties Will Be High
War In The Gulf: Their Stories: Daddy's Girl Crystal Mercado
March 23, 2003
Hinesville --- Crystal Mercado, 12, just can't hide her feelings when she talks about her dad, whom she calls Papi in the Puerto Rican way. Her delicate mouth trembles and tears spill from her wide, dark eyes.
But she wants to talk about her father, she said, trying to keep her voice steady and bravely wiping her cheeks.
"We play Nintendo and Monopoly," Crystal said. "He tells me stories about when he was a little boy in Puerto Rico. He's outgoing and fun and sweet."
Crystal is the youngest of three children of 1st Sgt. Jose Mercado, now fighting the ground war in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division from the Fort Stewart Army post here.
As Charlie Company's first sergeant, Mercado, 40, is in charge of "bullets, beans and bandages" for the 80-soldier unit, part of the division's 1-64 Task Force, said Bob Harrison, a Fort Stewart spokesman.
Mercado left for Kuwait in September --- a month after the Mercados' son, Jonathan, left for his first year at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. Both Crystal and her sister, Melissa, 16, are close to their big brother, and having both men away has been hard, their mother, Ermelinda Mercado, 41, said.
At first her husband called home every day, she said. But last week, after Charlie Company had moved for the third time, it was virtually impossible for the soldiers to make calls, Ermelinda Mercado said.
But when a soldier under Mercado's care was notified by the Red Cross that his wife had delivered a baby, Mercado arranged to take the happy father to a nearby city to telephone home.
Mercado himself borrowed a reporter's satellite telephone and called home Thursday, after the war started Wednesday night.
Crystal answered the call.
"When I asked her who she was talking to and she said, 'Papi,' I was so surprised," her mother said.
But she wasn't surprised that her daughter was reluctant to share the telephone call.
"She's the most like him of all the children, very outgoing and happy," Ermelinda Mercado said. "They are very close."
On the cusp of being a young woman, Crystal clearly understands the danger her father might be facing. She's not too clear on Iraq's geography, politics or other details of the conflict, however. She watches snippets of TV news but turns it off when she starts to feel upset or frightened, she said.
In the sixth grade at Lewis Frasier Middle School, Crystal is surrounded by other students in near-identical circumstances, said Dr. Caroline Tunkle, a member of the Liberty County school board. About 17,000 soldiers have deployed from the military reservation for the Iraqi conflict.
Crystal and her friends often talk about family members and close friends who are gone. They were pleased and excited when many soldiers from the 3rd, including Crystal's dad, were featured on a "Good Morning America" report from Kuwait, she said.
This isn't the first time Mercado has done lengthy military tours away from his family. He was serving in the first Gulf War when Crystal was born. After the family moved to Hinesville in 1996 and bought a home here, he was transferred to Fort Polk, La. Two years ago, he shipped out to Korea for a year.
Having him gone for long periods is always hard, Crystal said, especially when he misses Christmas and her birthday, as he has this time.
"I just miss him so much," she said. She says "special prayers" and thinks about the good times they'll have when he comes home.
And if she could tell him something right now?
Crystal's lips began to tremble again.
"I would tell him I love him and always want to be with him and never lose him," she said.
Veterans: This War Will Be Different Most Suggest Number Of Casualties Will Be High
BY MICK WALSH
March 19, 2003
War with Iraq will be short, but not necessarily sweet, say area veterans of previous wars in which U.S. forces were involved, including 1991's Operation Desert Storm.
They cite technologically advanced weaponry, experienced leadership, a war-friendly terrain and longer periods of training in desert conditions.
But, almost to a man, they suggest the number of casualties will be high.
"The man (Saddam Hussein) has no respect for human life," said 69-year-old Harold Rhoads of Phenix City, a Korean and Vietnam war vet. "If he decides to go with chemical and biological weapons, we're going to lose a lot of men."
Those who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam readily admit that the improvement in weaponry since their days of combat has been enormous.
"They're much better equipped than when I landed on the beach at Normandy," said 80-year-old William Teal Allen. "Technology has come so, so far since the '40s and '50s when I served. And I believe the guys are better trained, too."
Edward Osborne, 34, served with the Marines during the last Gulf War.
"We arrived in the Gulf on Dec. 24 and we started the bombing on Jan. 16," said the Phenix City man. "Not a whole lot of time to prepare for war. But this time? I think our guys have more time on the ground over there than the enemy does."
Luis Humphreys, 64, says he detects a higher level of morale in today's troops than when he fought in Vietnam in 1969.
"They're all volunteers for one thing, and many of their leaders were involved in the '91 Gulf War. So there is a lot of experience there."
The Vieques, Puerto Rico, native sees a war that "won't take long." But he adds, "what worries me is that we'll have troops stationed there for the next 4-5 years. Heck, we've had troops in Korea since the end of that war."
Jim Coppeler, 74, shares Humphreys' opinion.
"Personally," said the Korean and Vietnam wars veteran, "I think we will kick their rear ends pretty quickly. But I hope we don't have to occupy that country."
The Columbus man also shares the notion that the casualty list could be high.
It's those weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, biological or chemical as the military refers to them -- that will be the wild card in this war, say all the vets.
"He'll either use them, if he has them," said Norm Hemminger, 71, "or this will be a very short war."
A combat veteran from Vietnam, Hemminger says a couple of things will be working in favor of our infantry soldiers.
"In 'Nam, you never knew where the enemy was going to hit you from. But it's hard to hide in the desert. You figure these guys are ready for some action -- they've been sitting over there since early January."
"The terrain is much more suitable over there than it was in our previous wars," said Bill Malecki, 63, who fought in Vietnam. "It favors our mechanized and armored troops."
That said, he offered a caveat: "The consequences of going to war in Iraq could be dire. The technology is so different these days. Bombs and all that. This thing could be over within days, or months. It's a tough one to call."
Rhoads said Tuesday he had an odd feeling that Saddam's troops will surrender soon after hostilities begin. But, he added, "I have some advice for our soldiers: Trust no one, not even the old folks or the children. I saw it too many times in Vietnam. Some of the people you least suspect are the ones who toss grenades at you."
Fred Willoughby of Columbus served in Desert Storm as a member of the U.S. Navy.
What worries Willoughby, 66, is that if Saddam feels trapped, he might resort to the use of chemicals.
"He did in '91," said Willoughby, who suffers from several illnesses dating back to his 5-month stint in Desert Storm. "He'll use whatever he has. But I'm also thinking that we'll get to him before he gets a chance to use it. I certainly hope so. I have a nephew over there."