The horror of poison gas attacks, triple-strand barbed wire and hand-to-hand combat against a determined, dug-in enemy have not faded away for a soldier who confronted them more than 70 years ago.
Winston Roche was 17 when he joined the Army. He became combat engineer in a multinational force of Americans, British and French fighting to make the world safe for democracy. At 19, he was in the trenches.The year was 1918, and instead of Republican Guards, he stared across into "No Man's Land" at Prussian Guards. The enemy was Kaiser Bill.
At 92, Roche's recollections of a killing ground poisoned by chemical weapons are as fresh as headlines out of the Persian Gulf.
"I was gassed twice," said Roche, who earned a Purple Heart and France's highest military medal, the Legion of Honor. "I was in the hospital three weeks the first time and 10 weeks the second time."
His legs still bear scars and mottled burn marks from running through shell holes filled with brackish water and gas residue.
His primitive gas mask let him down twice, burning his lungs and flooding his eyes.
"I thought I was a goner," he said. "It burns, and it's choking. It's like drowning."
As a combat engineer, it was Roche's duty to clear a path through the barbed wire and fortifications for the infantry, a job that soldiers and Marines will have to repeat in a ground assault on Kuwait.
He recalled a night during an offensive on the Meuse river when the 5th Division faced Germans who were dug in on a hill fortified with howitzers, criss-crossing machine guns and bunkers from which grenades were hurled. His company of 175 men suffered 60 percent casualties.
"I feel it's going to be a terrific job, dislodging them from the lines around Kuwait," Roche said. "It's going to be like World War I when we had to go in and flush 'em out, and fight hand-to-hand and house-to-house."
After "the war to end all wars," Roche felt a soldier's gladness when gas weapons were banned by the Geneva Conventions. Now he feels a personal bitterness at Saddam Hussein's willingness to reintroduce such weapons.
"To put it succinctly, he's no gentleman," Roche said in a courtly understated manner from an earlier age. "He wants to be the czar or the sultan of all Arabia. He's got to be stopped."
Roche's grandson, 25-year-old Robert Roche, is participating in Operation Desert Storm as a petty officer aboard the USS Saratoga.