25 years later, Veteran remembers Persian Gulf War

BY Jan Murray jmurray@southeastsun.com

25 years later, Veteran remembers Persian Gulf War
The 110-day war known as Desert Storm ended 25 years ago and Desert Storm veteran, Daleville Director of Public Safety Harvey Mathis, remembers the vast deserts of the Middle East well. He recently attended a 25th anniversary of the war in Georgia from where he shipped out. Mathis is even still in contact with a beloved teacher from New York state, whose then-second grade class became “forever friends” with Mathis in the months leading up to the war.With some trepidation Mathis recalls memories of the oppressive 130-plus degree heat and all the wild animals of the barren landscape, including red foxes, wild dogs, camels, scorpions, spiders, beetles, flies, huge lizards and Cobra snakes. The heat and wildlife made everyday life for soldiers tough. Add to that the constant fear of chemical weapons and nonstop wondering when the actual battle against a powerful army would begin caused stress levels to peak, he said.It was August 1990. At the time, Mathis was a sergeant in the 69th Armor Regiment, 3rd Battalion, 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) of the U.S. Army, based at Fort Stewart, Ga. The 24th ID was called the Victory Division. The ID was 26,000 soldiers-strong at the time and was sent to intercept the then-elite army of Iraq—the Republican Guard. Iraqi forces had invaded the tiny country of Kuwait in August 1990. U.S. and allied forces were in the process of reversing that action.In the “General Order to Attack” issued to the 24th, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey wrote, “Soldiers of the Victory Division—we now begin a great battle to destroy an aggressor army and free two million Kuwaiti people…By force-of-arms we will make the Iraqi war machine surrender the country they hold prisoner.“On D-day, the 24th ID (M) will be the point of the spear for a general offensive by the 700,000 Coalition Allied soldiers…The shock action and violence of the 24th …will save thousands of American lives from the bloody work of fighting through the fire trenches of Kuwait. There will be no turning back when we attack into battle.”The 24th did not turn back. For months prior to what became known as the “left hook” assault, the troops, including Mathis, had been slowly advancing across hundreds of miles in a desolate Saudi Arabian desert toward the border of Iraq. It was a hot, miserable time, but one in which Mathis and his fellow soldiers continued the mission. “We were ordered not to let them make it back to Bagdhad with their weapons and equipment. They could walk back, but not with equipment,” said Mathis.Journalist Joseph Galloway was imbedded with the 24thID. His article, “The Point of the Spear,” appeared inU.S. News and World Report March 11, 1991, just days after a cease-fire ended the 100-day war on Feb. 28, 1991. Galloway wrote, “The 24th’s was the toughest mission in a campaign unprecedented in size, speed and scope…The division, whose motto is “first to fight,” passed the test…“The 24th was the first full division to deploy in Saudi Arabia in August of 1990, and its troops quickly grew sick of the alternating hot days and cool nights…the baths from wash basins improvised from empty plastic water jugs and canteen cups, of the endless losing war against the talcum-like moon dust, ground from sand and rock by the tank tracks and truck tires—dust that clogged their nostrils, their weapons and the engines of their vehicles.”Mathis said the areas ahead of the 24th were “prepped with multiple-launch rocket systems…We were told that once those rockets were launched everything within five square miles would be dead…We were policing up the dead (as the 24th moved forward). As the war was getting toward the end, there were a lot of Iraqi casualties—dead and wounded…They had sent me and a squad of people to watch over a hospital unit…Even the wounded had to be searched (before and after the war). There were hundreds and hundreds of Iraqis but only five or six of us…You’d see a lot of wounded people there, soldiers too, that you had to leave because you (we) had to continue the attack,” said Mathis wincing at memories of wild dogs that would come out at night to feast. “You knew what was going to happen when it got dark…A lot of people (soldiers) wanted to jump off the vehicles and tend to the wounded, but couldn’t. We had to keep advancing. There were just so many. A lot (of soldiers) had problems because of that.”A man with a passion for helping abused children and animals, Mathis, to this day, still gets angry and sad when he thinks of all the Iraqi “kids” he’d found injured or dead and had to search as he and his comrades advanced on the mission. He said when he came upon a deceased child/Iraqi soldier he would  (out of anger and sadness) say, “What are you doing here? You should be in school. What are you doing out in this battlefield, wearing that uniform?”When asked about his worst memory among many, Mathis recalled watching two Bedouin children perish because they needed to be flown out of the desert for massive head injuries, but transportation via air was not possible due to regulations. That situation occurred before the actual war even began. During those months of war preparation in Saudi Arabia, Mathis had become attached to the Bedoiun children in the desert and treated them when he could to treats he acquired on supply runs or with treats sent by children he was corresponding with in the states.Having entered the Army in 1976 at the age of 18—following in the footsteps of his father, his grandfather and all the others in his family that had served the country—Mathis spent a total of 20 years in the Army, retiring as a master sergeant. He was out of the military for an intervening time, fighting a rare form of cancer. Upon leaving the Army, Mathis picked a place on the map to retire and settled in the Wiregrass. First working as a journalist for theDaleville Sun-Courier, Mathis then went on to be a patrol officer and investigator in Daleville. After several years with the DDPS, he became chief deputy with the Dale County Sheriff’s Office.He continues to this day caring for his passion—children and animals.Follow this link to a video about the 24th ID’s homecoming:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYUbt5h2Lk8Follow this link to a video documentary of Desert Storm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jJiAT6Zbls
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