Operation Desert Storm POW
by: Catalina, Brooklyn, Maddie
United States prisoners of war had to endure a variety of medical problems during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. All but one of the prisoners suffered some form of injury or illness. Orthopedic injuries were most common. Hematologic, dermatologic, neurologic, and infectious disorders were also noted. Some injuries were combat-related and others were due to mistreatment during incarceration. The prisoners' condition upon repatriation reflected their limited access to appropriate medical care, sanitation, and nutritional support.
Over all the POWs were taken care of better than Vietnam, although many of them suffered injuries that were not taken care of properly .
While the camp itself was not terrible the prisoners were interrogated, when they wouldn’t cooperate they were beaten and tortured.
Until Navy Lt. Robert Wetzel appeared on television early Monday, Kate Farber had wondered if her brother might be lost forever.
Wetzel was flying an A-6 Intruder with Lt. Jeffrey Zaun on Jan. 18 when they were shot down. Zaun's bruised face soon appeared on front pages and television screens across the country and he was a prisoner of war.
But at least people knew he was alive, Kate Farber thought.
Farber's brother was listed as missing in action and there was nothing to indicate that he had survived.
"We were only told one thing -- that his plane went out on a mission and did not return," Farber said from her home in Elkridge.
Early Monday morning, however, Wetzel's family got "absolutely the most thrilling news any of us will ever hear in all our lives. Our prayers were answered," Farber recalled.
Televised pictures showed Wetzel and nine other allied prisoners of war being released from enemy hands to the Red Cross in Baghdad.
On Wednesday, Farber, 35, received a telephone call from her 30-year-old brother, who said he was on a ship somewhere in the Middle East and expected to return to Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday.
"He sounds great," Farber said.
Wetzel, whose arm was in a sling when he was released, told his sister he was injured when he and Zaun ejected from their plane. He told her he was taken to a hospital somewhere in enemy territory, but he praised the Iraqi doctors who treated him.
"It's a shock. That is really a blessing," Farber said. "He said all the Iraqi people he came into contact with treated him as an injured person, not as a prisoner of war."
She said her brother told family members about his plane being shot down and his capture but said military officials have asked them not to discuss those details.
Family members remained close throughout the ordeal, and they wrote letters to the Iraqi Embassy asking them to treat prisoners of war well. Still, they worried silently that Wetzel may have been killed.
"We all worried about that. We didn't talk about it," Farber said. "We all supported one another and tried to stay positive."
She also received daily calls of support from her neighbors and friends in Howard County, who greeted Wetzel's release with enthusiasm. "It's really personalized the war so much," she said.
Wetzel was stationed in Virginia Beach when the war began and has a fiancee, Jacqui Curtin. He is the sixth of nine children in a family from Metuchen, a small town in central New Jersey.
Farber said, "He's everybody's favorite. He's a good guy, just a real good guy."
She said she feels "wonderful" about her brother's release, but she won't be completely happy until he steps off the plane at Andrews, "and until we have all the POWs home."
COL Mike Roberts
“I remember trying to light the burner on the airplane to get some air speed back, and instead of feeling that kick in the pants from the burner lighting, I felt the motor just dying underneath me,” he said. “We have what we call ‘Bitching Betty’ in the airplane — a voice warning system that starts talking to you when things are going bad — and Betty’s bitching and lights are lighting up everywhere and the motor had quit running, the flight controls weren’t responding. I was in sort of a negative-G pitch over and I couldn’t pick the nose of the airplane back up. Nothing was working.”
He glanced back over his left shoulder and saw smoke pouring from beneath the airplane. He tried once more to restart the motor, but nothing happened. It was time to get out.
Over the next few days, Roberts was moved several times and interrogated again at each new stop. On the third day, his captors took him to a facility where they had begun consolidating the downed pilots now being held as prisoners of war. Although he remained blindfolded, he could feel and hear other POWs being taken past him into an interrogation room. He could also hear their screams.
When it was Roberts’ turn, the Iraqi soldiers escorted him into the room, removed his blindfold and handcuffs and told him they were allowing him to make a video to show his friends and family that he was alive and well. At first, the soldier giving the instructions simply wanted him to identify himself, his unit and his aircraft.
“Then he started on this thing of ‘Repeat after me. The innocent people of Iraq are being wrongfully harmed by the people in power in America,’” Roberts said. “You know, all this kind of stuff. Like everybody else in front of me, I said ‘Well, I’m not going to say that.’ And then the fun and games started again.”
After another beating, the soldier who appeared to be running things told the others to take Roberts outside and cut off his leg. They dragged him off, blindfolded and handcuffed him again, knocked him down and beat him even more severely.
After the POWs recorded their videotaped messages, they were loaded onto a bus and taken to a temporary prison facility where they stayed for about a week and an half. It wasn’t too bad, Roberts recalled. They were fed and the young Iraqi troops who were guarding them left in the evenings, allowing the POWs to talk among themselves and take an accurate roll call.
“They would bring around in the morning a piece of bread, and in the afternoon, a bowl of rice covered in some boiled onions or something. At nighttime, just before sunset, they would bring around a big bucket that had a bunch of boiled goat meat or something,” Roberts said. “I don’t know what it was, not great stuff, but enough to keep you alive.”