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Gulf War Missile Attack Recalled, 30 Years Later

In this 2014 photo, Mary Rhoads takes a break during a walk in her hometown of California, Pa., where she worked as a parking meter attendant before being deployed to the Persian Gulf War. Photo by Scott Beveridge

As evening fell on Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 25, 1991, U.S. and British troops were inside a corrugated metal barracks eating dinner, working out or sleeping.

They were deployed to the region as part of the effort by the United States and its allies to evict Iraqi forces from Kuwait. In the month since the war started, Iraq had lobbed Soviet-made Scud missiles at Saudi Arabia and Israel, but most went off course and caused few casualties.

That night, a Monday, was a horrible exception.

The missile plunged into the barracks, killing 28 soldiers. An additional 110 were hospitalized and 150 experienced injuries or endured lingering post-traumatic stress. For the U.S. and other countries participating in what was called Operation Desert Storm, it was one of the worst moments in a conflict that was relatively brief and generated a modest number of casualties among U.S. and allied troops.

The missile attack and the Persian Gulf War are not much-remembered or talked about by most Americans nowadays, having been buried under three decades of other headlines and crises. But on Thursday, the 30th anniversary of the attack, it was remembered in a solemn ceremony at the 14th Quartermaster Co. U.S. Army Reserve Center in Greensburg. That’s because 13 members of the company were killed and 43 injured in the attack. It was the most casualties a single unit took during the Persian Gulf War, and the names of those who lost their lives are inscribed on a memorial there.

Three of those who were killed were from the area: Spec. John A. Boliver Jr., 27, of Monongahela; Sgt. Joseph Phillip Bongiorni III, 20, of Hickory; and Spec. Anthony Erik Madison, 27, of Monessen. They had arrived in Saudi Arabia just six days before and were part of a water purification unit.

Mary Rhoads, 64, of California, attended the ceremony. She was driving back to the barracks that night from dinner when the attack occurred. Rhoads doesn’t like to talk about the attack that much, and admits she still has post-traumatic stress disorder and acquired other health problems following her time in the Persian Gulf. In fact, the range of illnesses veterans of the war have endured in its aftermath have been given the name Gulf War Syndrome.

Rhoads has spoken out over the years on how the attack affected her. She underwent counseling at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and told the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in July 1991 that she felt guilty that she was still alive. Her experience was also chronicled in the 2015 book, “13 Soldiers: A Personal History of Americans at War,” by John McCain and Mark Salter.

Aside from the terror and fear that unfolded 30 years ago today in the Saudi desert, Rhoads does fondly recall the warm welcome she and other members of the 14th Quartermaster Co. received when they returned home.

“When we got off that plane, there were people all the way from Latrobe to Greensburg,” she said.

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