Veterans' Voices: Returning Home From The Gulf War

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Charles Sheehan-Miles was a tank loader in the Gulf War, engaged in combat in the 24th Division. He had a hard time coming back to civilian life. How do you answer, he wonders, when someone asks, "How was it?" Sheehan-Miles wrote a fictionalized account of his time in the Gulf, called Prayer At Rumayla, to give some indication.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

On this Veterans Day on MORNING EDITION and on our program, we've heard from veterans who took part in America's wars of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Now, a Gulf War veteran. He told NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates that what he saw in battle was not what most Americans saw on TV.

KAREN GRISBY BATES: Charles Sheehan-Miles enlisted in the Army soon after he graduated from high school. His father and grandfather were both Army veterans and

Specialist CHARLES SHEEHAN-MILES (United States Army): Being in the Army just made sense.

BATES: Sheehan-Miles saw combat as a tank loader in the Gulf War. He says he had mixed feelings when he heard his unit was being returned to Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Spc. SHEEHAN-MILES: We got word about two weeks after the ceasefire that we were going home. The rebellion against Saddam Hussein was very active at that point. The Kurds were rebelling the Shiites, and a lot of us felt like we were abandoning them; that the Iraqi army was very actively exterminating these people who we should have been protecting.

At the same time, of course, we all wanted to go home to be with our families again, to be out of danger.

BATES: But Sheehan-Miles discovered being home was the start of a different struggle.

Spc. SHEEHAN-MILES: What I had seen and done during the ground war was dramatically different than people's perspectives. And people would ask me really stupid questions. I remember I was out at a waffle house a couple of months after we got back. And this guy, he sees me. Im in uniform. And so he's like, you know, hey, were you in Desert Storm? Wow, you're hero. You know, what did it feel like to kill people?

And I had so much rage at that point that I dont even know what I said to the guy.

BATES: Over the next decade, he worked out the rage by writing "Prayer at Rumayla," a novel about the Gulf War, and by working in organizations that address veterans' needs.

His own children are tiny but Charles Sheehan-Miles says if they choose to enlist when they're older, he'll be worried and something else.

Spc. SHEEHAN-MILES: I'd also be proud because part of being a citizen of this country is actively participating in our democracy, and in defending it when the time comes that it needs to be defended.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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BLOCK:

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