Hell is a real place, and Louie Glant found it in a machine-gun crossfire on a beach called Anzio. Desmond Doss recognized it among the mortars on Okinawa. Bill Manning saw it in a rocket ambush near the Cambodian border.
Ground war in the desert of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, these combat medal winners say, is a hell in the making.Glant, who holds his prosthetic arm in his lap as he speaks, is an official of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the decoration awarded for combat wounds.
"We had decided that we were a dead breed," he said, recalling a meeting of the group less than a year ago, after the Berlin Wall fell and peace seemed to be breaking out. There'd be no more Purple Hearts awarded, the members thought, wishfully but wrongly.
His voice rose: "We're going to have a bunch now. We're going to have a lot of Purple Hearts. That's a medal we'd just as soon not have."
Glant was among several decorated veterans who met recently for a ceremony opening the Medal of Honor Museum of Military History in Chattanooga.
Looking to the gulf, most said ground combat was necessary; all said it was inevitable and would add new horrors to the ones they'd seen firsthand.
"That's a very gloomy picture to see," said Doss, who wore the star-shaped Medal of Honor on a blue ribbon around his neck.
He won it as a medic; in 1945 on Okinawa, he braved withering Japanese fire to evacuate 75 U.S. casualties, one by one, down a cliff on a rope-supported litter. Later, wounded several times himself, he splinted his own broken arm with a rifle stock and crawled to safety.
"Nobody hates war like I do," said Doss, a Seventh-Day Adventist whose beliefs forbade him to fire a gun. He's one of only two non-combatants to receive the nation's highest military honor.
He saw in the gulf war a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, but if ground fighting starts, he added, "I just hope and pray it'll be short."
Bill Manning shared that prayer. But, sipping from a coffee cup held with a hook-like artificial hand, he spoke of another hope: "I'd encourage the American people to still support the war" after ground casualties start.
With that in mind, he added: "I hope CNN and the other news media will use discretion about what they show.
"There's nothing pretty about a war. I'd rather not have the American people, nor would I like to, see the gory scenes," said Manning, commissioner of Tennessee's Department of Veterans Affairs.
He has seen the gory scenes. He lost his left arm and right hand to a rocket-propelled grenade during the Vietnam War. At least, he said, no news crew was there.
A network camera was rolling another time, he remembered, when a sniper's shot struck an anti-tank missile and a GI in Manning's unit took the resulting blast in the legs. Tragic as it was, the incident was not significant in the ongoing battle, but after recording it the news crew left, he said.
"I don't think things like that belong on the evening news," he said. "A man fighting for his country. Both his legs blown off. Especially when it's an isolated incident."
At the Medal of Honor museum, every veteran said his heart was with the troops as ground war looms.
Keep up the bombing, many said, to lessen allied ground casualties.
Keep up morale, said Medal of Honor recipient Paul Huff, who as a paratrooper in World War II was honored for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity." At one point, according to his medal citation, he rose to a kneeling position in the face of German machine-gun fire in order to assess the numbers of the enemy that his much smaller force then captured.
Through a ham radio hookup to the gulf, he recently spoke to airborne troops. "I said `I only wish I was over there with you.' "
Charles Coolidge expressed no such desire. Thinking of the gulf troops, he spoke of becoming callous in battle, even to one's own heroism.
Coolidge's Medal of Honor citation describes him charging to within 25 yards of two German tanks, and, when his bazooka failed to fire, attacking them with hand grenades. Still, he thought his own efforts were greater a month later in another part of France.
But, he shrugged, "I told the lieutenant, I said, `I don't want any more medals. I just want to go home.' "