Gulf War vets fume as US fails to mark 25th anniversary
On Saturday, Scott Stump, president and founder of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, could not commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Persian Gulf War in Washington. There was, after all, no official Defense Department event scheduled to mark the conflict's Feb. 28, 1991, cease-fire.
Instead, Stump, a former Marine who deployed to Saudi Arabia on Dec. 31, 1990, attended a formal event and lunch at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, at the request of Gen. Jonathan Vance, defense chief of the Canadian Armed Forces.
That's right. Canada.
"When we got the invitation to Canada's official, government-sanctioned 25th anniversary event, the thing hit us with a ton of bricks," said Stump, 49, who lives in North Carolina. "You have a country that had 4,000 troops on the ground inviting an American like me to attend their commemoration, yet our country - which deployed over 600,000 troops - is not doing anything."
Lt. Col. Thomas Crosson, a Defense Department spokesman, confirmed that the Pentagon did not plan any 25th anniversary events to recognize the Persian Gulf War.
"We certainly have not forgotten the efforts and sacrifices of those who served during the Gulf War," he said in a statement. He added that Stump's association - which gained preliminary approval to build a memorial near the Mall and boasts former president George H.W. Bush as its honorary board chairman - is the only group that has expressed grievances about the lack of any 25th anniversary events.
The Persian Gulf War, a U.S.-led effort to oust Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces from Kuwait, was a short war by modern standards. Combat lasted about a month-and-a-half, claiming close to 300 U.S. casualties. But the lack of any Pentagon-sponsored 25th anniversary event reinforces Stump's concern that Desert Storm veterans rarely merit the tributes heaped on other war veterans.
"Five years ago, I started this organization when I realized my kids didn't know what Desert Storm was and people lumped it together with Operation Iraqi Freedom, relegating it to a footnote in history," Stump said. "But if you have a war, shouldn't it be completed as quickly as possible? I've had some people from other countries ask me, 'What's the matter with your country that they don't want to talk about America's victory?' "
Although the Pentagon hasn't planned anything, some veterans organizations have scheduled their own commemorations.
On Saturday, the VII Corps Desert Storm Veterans Association was slated to conduct a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and hold a dinner at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington with guest speaker retired Gen. Martin Dempsey.
The U.S. Central Command in Florida, said spokesman Army Capt. Michael Meyer, was planning to send a color guard to an event Saturday at a veterans park in Tampa, featuring Brenda Schwarzkopf, widow of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., commander of coalition forces during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.
But Stump says the Defense Department should have planned one major commemoration that would have been open to all veterans, no matter to which service or unit they belonged.
Two months ago, the memorial association began asking the Defense Department if it had any plans to commemorate the anniversary. The Pentagon wrote back saying nothing was in the works and suggested that individual military services might hold their own ceremonies, according to emails provided by the memorial association.
But after Stump got invited to Saturday's event hosted by the Canadian Armed Forces, and a Newseum reception Thursday hosted by the ambassador of Kuwait, his organization pressed the Pentagon one more time. Fred Wellman, a board member of the memorial association, sent an email to the Pentagon on Feb. 19, flabbergasted.
"Up until recently I dismissed the constant complaining by Gulf War veterans that they have been forgotten by the military but frankly at this point it's hard to dismiss their complaints," wrote Wellman, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. "We are ignoring one of the greatest military victories in world history that was led by the U.S. because its 'just another anniversary'? Nothing at Arlington? Nothing at the Pentagon? This can't seriously be the plan still is it?"
A Pentagon official wrote him, saying he had shared Wellman's concerns with higher-ranking brass, and sent Wellman links to stories about the 25th anniversary on the websites of the Air Force, National Guard, and Stars and Stripes.
Stump said he was delighted to attend Canada's event on Saturday. And Canada was more than happy to honor the Persian Gulf War's 25th anniversary. In fact, Saturday's event at the Canadian War Museum wasn't the only commemoration organized by the Canadian Armed Forces, said spokeswoman Maj. Indira Thackorie.
It was one of seven.