The ground shook, the night sky flashed and Staff Sgt. Percy Smith III knew that American B-52 bombers were once again pounding Iraqi troops just across the border in Kuwait.
"I feel for them," said Smith, 32, of Atlanta. "I feel like I'm glad that I'm on this side and not on their side. I know they're catching hell, but I feel really sorry for them."Nearly three weeks into the Persian Gulf war, the constant drumbeat of U.S. bombings may be doing a job on the Iraqis huddled in bunkers north of the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, but it is also weighing on the minds of U.S. Marines listening from the other side.
"When you hear the bombs go off and the ground shake, you know that's our guys out there doing hurt to the enemy," said Maj. Charles Clarke, 42, of Kalamazoo, Mich.
But ordinary grunts don't usually refer to Iraqi soldiers as the "enemy." More often than not they see the opposition as simple soldiers, troops just doing their job, victims in their own way of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"No one talks about `the enemy,' " said Cpl. Joey Trecartin, 20, of Bridgeport, Maine. "They talk about Saddam Hussein. `Hussein did this, Hussein did that.' "
The sound of bombings, delivered by B-52s that lay down row upon row of devastating explosions, has increased in the past few days, apparently spurred by concerns that Iraqis may be gathering along the border for another attack to follow up the one last week against the Saudi border town of Khafji.
While still very much ready to fight the Iraqis and anxious for the chance, several of the Marines waiting in their foxholes just south of the border said they realize their enemies are also victims.
"They're just like us," said Cpl. Eric Church. "They're soldiers doing their jobs."
Similar sentiments are heard among soldiers in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, also stationed near the front lines in northern Saudi Arabia.
Pvt. Gerald McIntyre, 20, said while sitting in a 4-foot-high foxhole that he keeps himself ready by thinking of his pregnant wife back home in Salisbury, N.C. But he also thinks of the Iraqi soldiers he's waiting to fight.
"They probably miss their families too," he said. "And they're probably colder and hungrier than we are."
"Personally, I don't want to kill anybody," said Sgt. Gordon Walsh, 24, of Grandview, Wash., a sharpshooter who dismisses any thoughts of charity as he keeps watch for the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne.
"It's just a target," he said. "I ain't going to make no feeling for anybody. I ain't going to think if he's married or has kids. He's just a person who might kill my best friend."
At the Marine camp listening to the nighttime bombing across the border, leathernecks wonder how long the Iraqis can stand up under the nerve-shattering roar of the B-52 attacks.
"We often talk about how much longer it will be before the people overthrow Saddam Hussein," said Trecartin. "It would be nice to get this thing over with."