Lt. Col. Doug Stone of the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve was curious. He wanted to know how the large anti-war demonstration across town in front of the Federal Building in Van Nuys was going.
“Is it going well? Is it peaceful?” he asked visitors in his office Saturday as he slipped out of his uniform and put on a blue button-down shirt. “I mean, it’s great they’re doing it. We’re protecting the right for them to do it.”
However, protecting that right had a new meaning for Stone and the families of other Marine reservists who gathered Saturday at the Marine Reserve Training Center in Encino. Ordered to report for duty that could take them to the Persian Gulf for a threatened war, they and their families were preparing for painful separations from loved ones at holiday time.
The Stones and the other families attended an orientation day for more than 250 Marine combat reservists from around California who are being activated in support of Operation Desert Shield.
During the morning and early afternoon, the spouses were briefed about medical benefits and financial arrangements, given military ID cards, and told how to use the commissary and military hospital.
It was a day that several families said they had prayed would never come. And although recent developments concerning the release of hostages in Kuwait was cause for some optimism, the fear and apprehension would not go away.
Attending the session with Stone was Kathy, his wife of 18 1/2 years, and his two teen-age daughters, Julie and Christy.
“I never thought I would ever be in this position,” Kathy Stone said. “It’s been a sharp learning curve. It’s hard to imagine a Christmas without Dad. First I felt this disbelief. Then I felt this detachment.”
However, she said she is braced for the separation: “Sure, I feel a wide range of emotions. This is overwhelming. But I also feel pride and confidence in our men. I know they’ll be back.”
Her husband added: “This is a hardship that, in many ways, I wish they did not have to go through. But we will get through it. And we will grow.”
Gunnery Sgt. Stephen Hernandez addressed the families, giving them a barrage of practical information.
“I tried to cover a whole lot of things,” he said. “Many of them were scared. But I think giving them all the information eased their minds. They felt that things were going to be all right.”
Because of the abrupt call to duty, many families held hurriedly arranged holiday celebrations.
During a break in their processing, Cpl. Robert Robbins and his wife, Maria, recalled the Christmas they held a few days ago.
“Our families got together, and we all gave Robert his presents,” Maria Robbins said softly as she rested an arm on her husband’s shoulder. “And he gave us our gifts. It was nice.
“I obviously don’t want him to go. But for whatever reason, he has to. And I will stand behind him.”
Robbins, who has been a reservist for 3 1/2 years, said he had been anxious for months about being called to duty and was somewhat relieved when the call finally came. It ended the tension and uncertainty.
“I think we’re going to be over there a long time,” he said. “That Saddam Hussein is crazy.”
Other families facing the separation said they were trying to maintain their holiday routine. Rick Espitia, a reservist since 1979, and his wife, Maureen, said his two young sons would not celebrate Christmas until Dec. 25.
“We’re trying to keep Christmas as normal as possible,” Maureen Espitia said. “The boys know Dad won’t be around. But I told them we would all go to Disneyland when he got back.”