"God bless America. God bless George Bush."
That comment, from a Kuwaiti man who shook an American pilot's hand with tears in his eyes, is one of many vivid images in the account of a Hill Air Force Base flier who toured Kuwait City only three days after the cease-fire that halted the Persian Gulf war. The report, by Capt. Scott Hill of the base's 421st Tactical Fighter Squadron, was distributed to news media by the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing.Hill and Capt. Dave Rabe, a pilot from the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing, based at Torrejon Air Base, Spain, were invited to tour Kuwait by a general. Both pilots had flown combat missions in Operation Des-ert Storm.
Hill described arriving at Kuwait City. "In the distance, the countless plumes of burning oil wells stretched to the horizon," he wrote.
"As we entered the city it looked like it had been struck by a tornado. Abdul (a Kuwaiti who gave them a ride) commented on how clean and beautiful the city was before the Iraqi army invaded. Now debris of all kinds littered the streets, sometimes several feet deep."
The buildings were dirty from black rain that fell through the smoke of the oil fires. Many had been used as barracks or fortifications, and windows were blocked with concrete blocks with small loopholes left for firing.
"The boats in the harbor had all been dragged on shore and smashed, and the once-beautiful marina destroyed. The beach was littered with visible land mines and concertina wires.
"Concrete pillboxes, foxholes, anti-aircraft guns and tank decoys lined the shore. A T-55 tank (a Soviet tank used by the Iraqis) was upended on the sidewalk."
Hill noted that thousands of Kuwaiti flags were hanging from homes and buildings. A week before, the possession of such a flag, if discovered, amounted to a death warrant, but now they were proudly flying everywhere.
"As the Kuwaitis noticed us walking on the sidewalk they were wild with excitement and thankfulness. They honked horns, shook our hands and took pictures; the girls all blew kisses to us and asked for autographs."
Young people wanted to be photographed with the pilots.
"The resistance and Arab coalition soldiers were almost as happy and excited as the Kuwaitis," he wrote. "In typical Arab fashion they fired their rifles in the air, often in full automatic. I'm sure they meant well, but several people have died from falling bullets."
At the Kuwait airport, the pilots found, the Iraqis had dismantled most of the equipment for shipment to Baghdad. "They began at one end of the airport and literally tore the place apart. Every desk, notebook and file cabinet was upended, ripped apart and strewn around.
"On top of this debris they made their camps." The evidence of that was everywhere, he wrote - "uneaten food, discarded clothing, filthy blankets and human waste in the corners.
"Evidently the airport was also the scene of some of their tortures. One part of the terminal contained bodies or at least pieces of bodies that had been there for months. Luckily it was too dark for us to really see but the smell was overwhelming."
Furniture was ripped apart, windows broken, 747 jet engines were trashed like scrap metal.
The pilots heard reports of murder, rape and looting.
"We learned that during the Iraqi exodus many hostages, perhaps thousands, were taken to ensure (the Iraqis') safety out of the city and then shot and dumped in the canals," Hill wrote. "It was these escaping Iraqis that were the target of the mass attack on the highway north of Kuwait so well documented by the news media.
"Once clear of the city, they became the target of one of the most impressive displays of air power since the war began.
"Those killed were the instigators of the rape, torture and carnage in Kuwait City. There's no human punishment that's sufficient to redeem the Iraqi leadership and army for their crimes, but perhaps some justice was served."
The pilots were told that if Bush and the United Nations had accepted a last-minute offer by the Iraqis to withdraw in 21 days, not a building would have been standing in Kuwait and possibly there wouldn't have been any Kuwaitis left alive.
"They were so grateful when the bombing started," Hill added.
"As we walked the streets of Kuwait and experienced the joy of their refound freedom we felt a surge of pride - pride in ourselves, pride in the military, pride in our leaders. Our souls, too, had been liberated."