“They didn’t do a head count in this war.” Interview of Joanne Palella
The Persian Gulf War: Veterans History Project, Voices of War, National Geographic.
Joanna Palella, a ten-year veteran when the U.S. came to the aid of Kuwait, describes going into the desert gave her and her sister soldiers a chance to participate more fully in the experience of war.
We left for Saudi Arabia on January 6, arrived on January 7. We didn’t know if we were going to be bombed going over. I’d say the worst pressure and stress were the first two weeks in the aluminum buildings, because starting about three days after we got there we were bombed every night from about nine o’clock to five o’clock in the morning. We really didn’t sleep much, and we didn’t know if there was going to be gas [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had used poison gas against the Kurd population]. They didn’t hand out bullets for the M-16s. Not that you could fight that with bullets, but it was a little bit paranoid for everyone there, not having any defense for things that were coming out of the sky.
We lived in aluminum warehouses by the piers for several weeks before we were sent out into the desert. I was in country for nine months. I was an ammunition specialist and a truck driver, so one of my jobs was to haul explosives. I also hauled the M1 tanks and Bradley tanks and worked with explosives for my company. There were no casualties in my unit; there were a few injuries.
One of the horrible experiences that I remember, and I’m glad that the smell has finally left me, was when we went into this place called Death Valley in Kuwait. Our military had bombed it for three days straight; there were thousands of military and civilian vehicles, the Iraqis confiscated whatever civilian vehicles they wanted to use. They ran one big convoy; it was like they were colored with a red Magic Marker; Hit Me, Hit Me. And the planes did for three days. Afterward we had to go through there and pick up the tanks that partly survived and had to clean up and pick up explosives. If there was dead inside the tanks, scrape them out, leave them for the engineers. The engineers made quite a few huge holes, they didn’t do a head count in this war; they just piled them in with equipment and covered them up. And it just stank horribly.
A good memory was when we were in our vehicles in convoy. There were plenty of Kurdish children that were starving, and we got to feed quite a few of them some MREs [packaged military meals]. I enjoyed doing that.
When asked to compare her experience to veterans of other wars like Vietnam, Palella had this to say:
We had electronic equipment to know where everything was when we go there. However, when we were going to blow up bunkers, we would be driving and not even know we were on them, the terrain was so monotonous. We could see for twenty miles, and they could see for, what, three feet inside the jungle? I’m glad I didn’t have to go to the jungle.
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