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Rebuilding Iraq

Stoicism replaces war fears for families of those in gulf

Differences prevent a single big rally

By Peter S. Canellos, Globe Staff, 01/15/1991

he tears and fears of those with relatives serving in the Persian Gulf seemed to give way to numbness yesterday, said a National Guard chaplain who counseled family members all day.

Others in the Boston area, from Red Cross workers preparing for an influx of casualty inquiries to those in business who are bracing for a war-driven plunge in financial markets, continued to pray for peace but brace for a war that they said now appears more likely than not. "I'm just existing, let me put it that way, and praying very hard," said Lorraine Kuplast of Brockton, whose 30-year-old son, John, is a Marine sergeant serving in the gulf. "I'm really trying to be strong for his wife and children."

"I think when it hit me more than anything was when the talks failed last week," she added. "Things kind of changed then, and it's been downhill ever since."

Her husband, John Kuplast Sr., a Marine veteran himself, acknowledged feeling some pride that his son is "doing his job," unflinchingly preparing to lead his mortar section in a possible attack on Kuwait.

"I'm proud of the job he's doing," he said. "He's well trained, that's for sure. But you pray, and hope everything works out, although it doesn't look good right now. It doesn't look good at all."

Rev. David Mahn, a National Guard colonel and leader of four support groups for family members of people in the service, said he spoke to many service families yesterday, and most were sorrowful but bearing up like the Kuplasts.

"Right now they're talking about the deadening of their feelings: not fear or excitement, just waiting," he said. "Some are actually coping better today. The countdown has been very traumatic, but the people I've called today, and been concerned about, are dealing with it OK."

Mahn said he realized the full gravity of the Persian Gulf crisis when he attended a meeting in Plymouth of guard members called up to action and their families.

"Walking into the armory and seeing hundreds of them with their loved ones -- it was like being punched in the gut, realizing the impact this has on so many people," Mahn said. "It took me a while to be able to go up to them and let them know there's support here."

Should war take place, Mahn would be in line to counsel relatives of those killed or wounded. Although he said his concerns are mainly for those in line for combat and their families, he knows a war would take a personal toll on him. "It's a very scary time," he said.

One way or another, war would touch almost every person in society, said Donald Froude, branch manager of the investment brokerage of Alex. Brown & Sons. Although Froude, like Mahn, said his main concern was for soldiers and their families, he noted that the health of the US economy is also at stake in the Persian Gulf.

"It's a world event," Froude said. "It's going to affect everything. You have a lot of things going on in the world -- between Lithuania, the gulf and here -- and how people respond to those things is what's moving the markets now."

The stock market, he pointed out, has been falling as the days tick off before the today's United Nations deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. "If war does break out, you'd have to say there'd be a huge sell- off," he said. "If it's a quick victory for the US, there'll be a bounce back."

Yesterday, Froude said his brokerage house was a center of anxiety, with people hoping and praying for a peaceful solution to the Iraq crisis, and the Soviet crackdown in Lithuania. "It's just nuts around here," he said. "It just seems like everything's happening at the same time."

Meanwhile, at the Boston Red Cross Center on Brookline Avenue, workers were moving to recruit more volunteers; prepare the staff to handle more "health and welfare" inquiries, by which family members in Boston can check on the condition of their relatives in the war; and secure channels of communication with Saudi Arabia.

"We're trying to anticipate the worst and gear up to meet any needs that may arise," said Wayne Kessler, the casework supervisor.

Kessler noted that almost all Red Cross clients have faced disasters, such as house fires or tragic accidents, so case workers are prepared to cope with war casualties and bereaved families. But he noted that Red Cross workers, as much as anyone, were anxiously hoping for peace.

"Anyone who's in a helping profession at some level cares about the clients you serve," he said. "You can't say you're divorced from the situation. You're not. But that's what we're here for, to help people through the difficult times."

But while Kessler and his staff prepared for war, members of area peace groups prepared for a night of religious services and vigils aimed at preventing war.

John Hoffman, a leader of the religious arm of the Emergency Coalition for Peace, Justice and Non-Intervention in the Middle East, said members of his group planned to pray at the Arlington Street Church and later attend a Boston Common vigil sponsored by Veterans for Peace.

"We wanted to come together as people of faith to pray. We feel prayer is one of the most important things to do," Hoffman said. "The other part is having a conversation to see what people can do to see that war doesn't happen and if does come to pass, what we can do to oppose it."

Paul R. Camacho, a Vietnam veteran and associate director of the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, said he figures even a best-case scenario for war would leave 111 Massachusetts men and women dead, and three times that number wounded.

A worse scenario -- a war with casualty rates proportional to Vietnam -- would see 248 people from Massachusetts killed and 1,203 injured in combat.

"Even if we win, we lose," he said, noting that Vietnam veterans and others were calling the center yesterday to prepare for peace protests.

"Oh, we're all sick about this thing," he said, pointing to the difficulties of a desert war, and the vulnerabilities of ships in the tiny Persian Gulf. "This is the stupidest thing that has happened."

But among many service people and their relatives, there is a feeling that even if war proves to be long and difficult and tragic, the cause of routing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and restoring the rightful leaders of Kuwait is a just one.

James Healy of Melrose, whose son James is a Marine corporal in Saudi Arabia, said he, like Camacho, fears that the US has underestimated the strength of Saddam Hussein's army. But he believes that war is necessary.

"I'm petrified -- petrified -- for my son," he said. "But here again it was his decision to do this and I honor that decision. There were millions of others who made that decision -- some forced, some unforced -- and that's why I'm sitting here in a fairly decent neighborhood and am able to turn left or right when I head down my street."

And in South Boston, which suffered a greater percentage of Vietnam War casualties than any area community, Fred Ferrara, a Boston police officer called up to Operation Desert Shield, said he is prepared to put his life on the line against Saddam Hussein.

Ferrara, whose immediate posting will be at the Marine base in Okinawa, Japan, moved up his June wedding to Thursday in anticipation of war. His fiance, he said, wants him to stay out of combat; but, given an option to leave the reserves in November, he reenlisted.

"If they need me, I'll go," he said. "I didn't just join up for a part- time job. I joined for the country."

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