Decatur man a casualty of Person Gulf War

Sweet homecoming
Sweet homecoming
More than four months after the Persian Gulf War ended, Staff Sgt. Thurlow Vorhees leaves Fort Wayne International Airport (then called Baer Field) with his family, from left, daughter Dominque, wife Christine and daughter Danyelle. His unit had been in the gulf for more than five months.
By CAROL TANNEHILL, of The News-Sentinel

Like others who served in Operation Desert Storm, Army Corp. James R. Miller of Decatur returned stateside amid tears, salutes and yellow ribbons. But family, friends and fellow soldiers had gathered to grieve on March 13, 1991, not to warmly welcome him home.

Miller, a 20-year-old husband and father of two, stepped on a land mine in southern Iraq only hours after learning of the official cease-fire. He was one of the 148 U.S. servicemen who died in the brief, but bitter, Persian Gulf War.

In summer 1990, the U.S. denounced Iraq's "naked aggression" against neighboring Kuwait and demanded that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein withdraw his troops from the oil-rich emirate. That August, the U.S. deployed soldiers -- dubbed Operation Desert Shield -- to the Middle East to "draw a line in the sand." If Hussein crossed it, President George Bush warned, war was a distinct possibility.

On Jan. 16, 1991, the possibility became reality.

"The liberation of Kuwait has begun," presidential press secretary Marlin Fitzwater told Americans during a televised news briefing.

Under the overall command of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Operation Desert Storm commenced with USAF F-117 Stealth bombing raids on the Iraqi capital. Over the next few days, U.S. and allied aircraft battered Baghdad with thousands of sorties and laser-guided "smart bombs." Iraq responded with occasional Scud missiles fired toward Israel and Saudi Arabia.

In Fort Wayne, as throughout the country, the news brought fear and fervor, anti-war rallies and Yellow Ribbon Campaigns, whispered prayers and patriotic speeches.

When local soldiers and sailors shipped out for the Persian Gulf, their parents, children, spouses, siblings and sweethearts were left behind to wait and worry.

Desperate for news, Fort Wayne families stayed tuned to CNN. Lin Ferro, whose son, Derek Kozlowski, was stationed in Saudi Arabia before and after the war, didn't sleep a wink on Jan. 16.

"I watched TV all night," she said.

On Thursday evenings at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, dozens of people gathered to give and get support. Clutching coffee and Kleenex, pregnant wives and proud mothers commiserated, cried, laughed and hugged. Led by Marvetta Myers, the enthusiastic organizer of Fort Wayne's Yellow Ribbon Campaign, they assembled care packages, wrote letters and shared war news.

Fort Wayne-area neighborhoods, businesses and schools offered encouragement in other ways.

In Arlington Park, residents decked out the northeast subdivision with yellow ribbons -- a symbol of solidarity for those far from home. Sun-colored bows fluttered on tree trunks, light poles, mailboxes and front doors, and more were hung from Arlington Park's main entry gate on Stellhorn Road.

The trees outside One Summit Square downtown also wore ribbons, the work of employees at Indiana Michigan Power Co., now known as AEP. And, on the window of the Scott Bakery on State Boulevard, yellow letters spelled out "God Bless Our Troops."

Grade-schoolers and teachers at Haley Elementary showed their colors by dressing in red, white and blue every Tuesday throughout the war and by selling "Support Our Troops" buttons for 25 cents each. The proceeds were given to the American Red Cross.

"It was so patriotic, you felt like saluting when you walked down the halls. Everybody dressed up," said Kay Holman, then first vice-president of the Haley Parent-Teacher Association. "The children kept asking teachers how they could get involved and help in their own way. And from there, it just snowballed."

Local folks rallied at churches, colleges and Memorial Coliseum -- divided by their devotion to war or to peace, but unified in their support of men and women risking their lives overseas. Protesters and supporters met face to face, but never saw eye to eye, at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. The Rev. Walter Maier III held weekly peace services at Concordia Lutheran Church. Hundreds of patriots gathered at Memorial Coliseum to salute the troops.

Then, on Feb. 28, just 100 hours after ground operations began, the Persian Gulf War ended. The fighting stopped. Kuwait celebrated its freedom. The U.S. and coalition forces embarked on the massive cleanup.

Fort Wayne-area families -- some overjoyed, some grieving -- welcomed their loved ones home. New Haven parents Carol and Ron Wood, who had received a prank call early in the war saying their son had been killed in Saudi Arabia, shed happy tears when their very-much-alive son Patrick walked through the gate at Fort Wayne International Airport.

The Miller family cried, too, when their soldier returned to Adams County.

"If all of mankind had listened to almighty God, Jim would still be with us," the Rev. John Gillig told mourners at James Miller's funeral. "He was ready and willing to sacrifice his own life for his fellow human beings."

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