“I’ve been told by older veterans they had hangovers that lasted longer than that war.”—Dawn Stratton
As Marine Corps Captain Dawn Stratton’s comment in her Veterans History Project (VHP) oral history makes clear, the Persian Gulf War—which took place from August 1990 to the end of February 1991—was a short one, lasting as long in months as other conflicts have in years. While the the war may have been brief, its impact was far-reaching, and is the focus of the most recent installment of VHP’s online exhibit, Experiencing War. The twelve collections included in The Persian Gulf War: 25 Years Later help illuminate the meaning of the war, illustrating not only how participation in the Persian Gulf War changed the lives of individual servicemen and women, but also how the war led to larger societal and cultural changes, particularly regarding the role of women in combat.
One word that came to mind as I was listening to and viewing the featured oral histories is sacrifice. It may be unexpected to think of such a short war as requiring sacrifice, and while it can be a trite buzzword, it also seems an accurate term to summarize the experiences of many of these veterans. Take, for example, the collection of Traci Vanetta Wright Nero, a specialist with the Army Reserves who was trained as a medical lab technician. On January 16, 1991, one day after she had given birth to her daughter, she was called up for active duty—and told to report to Walter Reed Army Hospital a mere two weeks later. Though Nero did not deploy overseas, leaving her daughter required tremendous emotional fortitude. The same can be said of Air Force Colonel William Francis Andrews, though he endured a very different experience. Shot down on February 27, 1991, one day before the end of hostilities, Andrews was captured as a prisoner of war, and withstood beatings and interrogations before his release.
You’ll notice that over half of the featured collections pertain to female veterans. This reflects not only VHP’s substantial holdings of collections relating to female veterans of the Gulf War, but also the larger historical context: the Persian Gulf War saw the largest deployment of women to a combat theater in American history. Peruse the feature to learn more about experiences ranging from that of Ingrid Lim, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army who served in Iraq during both the Persian Gulf War and the more recent Iraq War, and Laura Dwyer, a sailor who served aboard the USS Cape Cod, and whose memoir details day-to-day life aboard ship during her deployment to the Middle East.
Since I was just a young student at the time of the war, getting to know the servicemen and women profiled in this feature helped to clarify the experience of the war for me, much in the way that VHP collections have similarly illuminated the Korean War (the subject of another blog post). With this online exhibit, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ceasefire that ended the Persian Gulf War, we salute and honor those veterans who served in it, and encourage other veterans of this conflict to share their stories with the Veterans History Project. Visit our website to view The Persian Gulf War: 25 Years Later and for more information on how to participate in the Veterans History Project.