The news of imminent victory in the Persian Gulf was not uppermost Wednesday in the minds of residents of this small town and others like it in the western foothills of the Alleghenies.
Rather, their thoughts were of Christine Mayes of nearby Rochester Mills and Beverly Clark of Armagh--two of the first three American women to die in the Gulf War. Adrienne L. Mitchell, 20, an Army private from Moreno Valley in California, also died in the attack.
Thoughts centered also on Anthony Madison and John Boliver and the others. This was a day for tears and prayers.
The families and friends of 10 reservists in the 14th Quartermaster Detachment based here began to learn which of their loved ones had died when an Iraqi Scud missile hit their makeshift barracks Monday in Saudi Arabia.
“The worst fears of the Army Reserves--and of us--has come true,” said Lt. Col. Paul L. Rots of the 99th Army Reserve Command. “When you lose that many from one unit, it’s aunts, uncles, friends. That’s what makes it so tragic. This is something you don’t ever forget.”
The curly-haired Mayes, 22, had become engaged to be married on Feb. 17--the day her detachment left for the Gulf. Athletic, outgoing Clark, 23, was recalled by her mother as fearful she would never return from Saudi Arabia.
Madison, 27, who realized a lifelong ambition when he joined the Army, left behind the high school sweetheart he had married and a young son and daughter.
“I just don’t believe he’s gone,” Norman Madison said in a tear-filled television interview. “He promised me he’d be back.”
Circumstances appeared to make the deaths particularly difficult to accept. The reserve unit had been in Saudi Arabia only five days before the attack. It was in Dhahran, far from the front lines where the ground war was being waged. The 28 soldiers killed represented more fatalities than were inflicted by the previous 70 Scud attacks on Israel, Saudi Arabia and smaller Gulf nations combined.
The missile eluded U.S. military tracking until two minutes before it hit because it was not traveling in the normal arc of a Scud, the military said at a news briefing here Wednesday. This may have been because it was breaking up, officers conjectured.
“The trajectory had been thrown off as a result of something wrong with the Scud, and it was going end over end,” said Maj. Gen. James B. Baylor, commander of the 99th Army Reserve Command.
Moreover, Baylor said, apparently no Patriot missile was fired to intercept the Scud because the Patriot system was temporarily shut down so crews could add a new piece of equipment.
The missile obliterated a transformed warehouse in which many of the troops were sleeping. The 28 killed included one member of the 326 Quartermaster Detachment based in New Castle, Pa., and several reservists from elsewhere in the United States. The incident also left 89 wounded.
Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey on Wednesday declared a week of mourning for the state’s war dead. Noting the unit’s distance from the actual fighting, Casey said: “The random cruelty of war struck them with full force.
“They were our sons and daughters,” Casey said. “Some have given, in Lincoln’s words, ‘the last full measure of their devotion.’ ”
The blue-collar towns and hamlets spread among the rolling hills here remembered and grieved in various ways.
At Greensburg Central Catholic High School, about 500 students and teachers sang, prayed and lit candles in a memorial ceremony.
At Monesson High School, one of the yellow ribbons on display for graduates in the Gulf was changed to black to commemorate Anthony Madison.
“She was doing what she wanted to do,” Darlene Mayes said of her oldest daughter. “I was proud of her. I don’t hold this against anybody.”
All Christine ever wanted, her mother told a television reporter, was a house, a dog, a pickup truck and a couple of kids.
A friend recalled that Joseph Bongiorni of Morgantown, W. Va., was such an achiever that, as a member of his high school football team, he played the trumpet in the band in his shoulder pads at halftime.
A memorial service was scheduled at the First Presbyterian Church in Greensburg for Saturday. The bodies of those killed were flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Tuesday night and were being returned to the families.
“When there’s a loss of life, everybody sticks together,” a Dayton woman said. “Especially in a little town like this.”
Residents volunteered food and offered to baby-sit or assist in other ways.
The Army is also providing aid by establishing an upgraded family support program at the Greensburg armory. Families of casualties will be offered help with counseling, benefits, medical bills, funeral arrangements and insurance.
More will need it. Notification teams were still making visits to the relatives of the dead Wednesday before the military releases additional names.
Yet, amid the grief and shock, for some, at least, there was relief. It came with calls from husbands or sons or daughters that they had survived the Scud attack.
Edwin McCawley of Greensburg said he was “more relieved (than) I’ve ever been in my life” when his son phoned from the Gulf to say he had only required three stitches in his arm after the attack.
The western Pennsylvania reserve unit, based 25 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, was responsible for water purification. Its 69 members included 44 from the region and 25 from around the country who were deployed to fill out the ranks.
The deaths dominated newscasts on Pittsburgh TV stations.
Word of the impending American and allied triumph against Iraq was, of course, welcomed here as well. But it was bittersweet.
Said one man: “I’ll be glad when it’s over and our people come home.”
Then he added with a shrug: “Some of them, anyway.”