From the Stars and Stripes archives

Kuwait's liberation: 'Thank you very much'

A U.S. Marine from the 2nd Marine Division joins in the celebration of Kuwait's liberation from its Iraqi occupiers in February, 1991.


By WAYNE J. BEGASSE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 12, 1991

KUWAIT CITY — I really didn't know what to expect. The sky was black. Bombs had pitted and scarred the highway that led into liberated Kuwait City. What was ahead? More importantly would I be able to handle what I found? How would the Kuwaitis — who days earlier had been given back their country — react to the hundreds of us reporters and photographers creating a second invasion?

It didn't take long before my questions were answered.

As I and my partner, Ken Clauson of European Stars and Stripes, made our way toward downtown Kuwait City, we came upon our first checkpoint. Armed with weapons that once belonged to Iraqis, young Kuwaitis stopped each car. They were looking for Iraqis, Iraqi sympathizers and weapons. They carefully checked the papers of everyone in each car; then they searched the trunks.

As we approached, I reached for the Kuwaiti press credential hanging around my neck. There was no need however. A Young Kuwaiti, no more than 15 and holding an AK-47, stopped our car, thrust his arm forward wanting to shake hands: "Thank you, thank you very much."

We would hear that for the next 36 hours as we traveled around Kuwait City trying to document their liberation.

At the next roadblock — there seemed to be one every 200 yards — we ran into a traffic jam. Figuring it must be debris strewn across the road causing the slowdown we made our way toward the front. People kept shaking our hands, screaming "Thank you, thank you George Bush, thank you everyone."

The cause of the traffic jam: another celebration parade, and we were caught smack in the middle. Although liberation was days old, that didn't stop them from continuing the celebration.

Cars trucks, flatbeds and even tanks filed past in front of the U.S. Embassy. Thousands of Kuwaitis lined the street. Victorious Kuwaiti and Saudi soldiers fired their weapons into the sky.

I shot several rolls of film in those first few hours: GIs signing autographs for thankful Kuwaitis, young Kuwaiti women yelling "Up with Bush Down with Saddam," people waving huge Kuwaiti flags.

There were two incidents I recall specifically.

I was standing there trying to take it all in, when one Kuwaiti mother touched my shoulder and asked if I was an American. When I answered, she threw her arms around me and began thanking me. I told her I wasn't a soldier, but a member of the press.

"It doesn't matter, you're American. That is enough. Americans freed our country from the arms of that madman."

She then introduced me to her family, all nine of them. The only one missing was her husband. He had joined the Kuwait resistance, and she hasn't heard from him since.

She whispered — she didn't want the children to hear — that she fears he is dead.

When I left Kuwait for our return to Saudi Arabia I stopped to photograph the burning oil fields,

As I was getting back into the car, another car pulled alongside. Inside was a Kuwaiti man with his family; his wife, two children and their Filipina maid. They said they were out driving for the first time since the Iraqi invasion on Aug. 2.

I gladly obliged his request that I Pose with his family for a picture. After the picture, he introduced his family and we talked. He told me stories of invasion day, how he and his family holed up in their small house for seven months. They went outside only for food and water. He looked at the horizon shook his head and said "What a pity. Our lives have been disrupted for the last seven months, and although we are happy to have come through it it's sad to see what's become of our country. It will take years to erase what Saddam did in those seven months."

As we said our goodbyes, his 7-Year-old daughter reached into the car and brought out a Kuwaiti flag, wrote something on it in Arabic and handed it to me. The father translated the Arabic: Long live freed Kuwait, Thank you.

I still have that flag. It hangs on the wall near my desk. It causes me to reflect of my short time in Kuwait. Reflect on the plight of those people, the ones that showed me a warm side all the while hurting inside.

This story appeared in a May 12, 1991, Pacific Stars and Stripes special section about the Gulf War.

A Kuwaiti woman waves her country's flag as dozens of Americans arrive in Kuwait City after the liberation of the country from Iraqi forces. Told that the visitors were not soldiers but reporters, one woman replied, "It doesn't matter, you're American. That is enough. Americans freed our country from the arms of that madman [Saddam Hussein]."