Pain Is in the Waiting as Other Wives Rejoice : Marines: Joyous welcome home is tempered for those with loved ones still not heard from.


Cindy Atkins stood quietly Saturday on Avenida Del Mar in San Clemente and watched what she had long hoped for--an all-American, red-white-and-blue "welcome home" for American troops who fought in the Persian Gulf War.

Fighting back tears, she wished her Marine husband were there to see it. And perhaps more important, she just wished he would call from the battle zone, let her know that he's all right and that he's coming home.

"I'm jealous, that's the word. Let's be realistic," she said.

Except for a couple of letters Atkins received soon after Valentine's Day, she has not heard from her husband, Master Gunnery Sgt. David Atkins. And there has been no word since the ground war began.

Cindy Atkins, like many other local Marine wives who have yet to hear when their husbands will arrive, said she feels a tug at her heart as she watches homecoming scenes on television newscasts. When she left Camp Pendleton to attend the rally, she said she noticed that news reporters had arrived to cover the first Marines returning to Camp Pendleton. She knew her husband would not be there.

The raucous sounds of car horns, live music and the cheers of the flag-waving crowd at the San Clemente rally seemed to disappear as Atkins escaped into her inner thoughts.

"It's a little hard for me," she said. "You know that feeling of being able to put your arms around the one you love."

"His birthday was Friday, and it was a little hard to get through that," she said.

Although the San Clemente rally was bittersweet, Atkins said it was important for her to be there.

Months ago, she had gone to the San Clemente City Council asking for permission to place yellow ribbons on trees along Avenida Del Mar as a reminder to Americans to support the troops.

Her husband had fought in the Vietnam War and witnessed Americans' hostility toward that military effort. She was determined to make this homecoming worth remembering.

"I just hope they keep it up," she said of the joyous celebration along the sidewalks and on the street. "They've got to keep it up."

Among those celebrating in the downtown street was another Marine wife, Rose Lopez, who might have been feeling the luck of the Irish as she awaited the expected St. Patrick's Day arrival of her husband, Sgt. John Lopez, of the 1st Marine Division.

With a friend behind the wheel, Lopez was hanging out a car window and waving a large American flag with red, white and blue balloons, as they drove up and down Avenida del Mar, honking the car horn.

"I'm going to pick him up and then we are going to disappear into the sunset, and the rest is rated X," she said of the welcome she plans for her husband.

When Cpl. Anthony A. Hernandez returns to Tustin within the next couple of weeks, he will be greeted by a new daughter who was born last Wednesday.

"We're just waiting until he gets back before we name her," Hernandez's wife Jeanna said.

But Lopez and Hernandez are among the lucky ones.

Many spouses still do not even have a return date they can circle on their calendars.

"It's hard to see everybody else coming home. We have some guys from Pendleton who left in January, and they're back already," said Jeannie Baldwin, whose husband, Sgt. Walt Baldwin, was among the first deployed to the Persian Gulf last August.

"There's a big rally today in San Clemente. And if he comes home in June, is there still going to be a celebration?" Baldwin wondered aloud.

Nancy Ann Bailey also shares Atkins' feelings about watching television coverage of other families being reunited.

"I can't wait until I'm the one doing that," Bailey said, adding that she hopes those who return in six months are also greeted by marching bands and the other pomp surrounding the returning troops.

Although some wives said it is difficult to plan a homecoming without knowing when to expect their husbands, Cheryl Gurule said she hopes to hold a big barbecue for her husband, Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Gurule.

"I asked him if he wanted to get away when he came back, but he said, 'I just want to kick back in the house, be with my family, have a Coors, and thank God that I'm back on my own turf.' But we have a big RV all packed up and ready to go if he changes his mind."

The mood was also upbeat at the home of Staff Sgt. Steven Everhart. Everhart's wife Vicki and their three children spent part of Saturday making "Welcome Home" signs.

"So long as they come home--it doesn't make a difference, honestly," Vicki Everhart said.

"We've pulled together so close, we're all just so happy for each other," she said of the support that waiting spouses have given each other. "I don't think there's much jealousy. We know ours are coming home soon too."

Times staff writer Eric Lichtblau contributed to this story.

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