Mideast Marine unit feeds on rumors to fill news appetite
October 16, 1990
EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA — Their first month in the desert has bitten the dust, and Marines of 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment continue to patrol, dig foxholes and wait. And to fill the news vacuum created by the lengthening stalemate in the Persian Gulf crisis, the Marines have begun to entertain themselves with rumors.
"We live by 'em (rumors)," said Cpl. Tim Bennett, an 81mm mortarman assigned to the battalion. "The upper echelon is giving us what information it can but they (officers) don't know much either," said Bennett, 25, from Wilmington, Del. Thus, rumors take the place of news.
The battalion arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 9 after completing just one month of a scheduled six-month deployment on Okinawa, Japan. Even on Okinawa, troops in the unit said, rumors of the deployment preceded the official word.
"THERE WERE rumors saying we were supposed to go to Saudi Arabia, but the commander said `don't believe them,' " said Lance Cpl. Michael Overly, a 20-year-old wireman from Pittsburgh. "Then a week later the CO said to get ready to go to Saudi. We had three days to get ready and get our MOPP (chemical) and desert gear."
To reach the Mideast, the Marines spent three weeks on cramped Navy assault ships, which steamed through a typhoon during the crossing. Since arriving, the battalion has patrolled in several locations and is now set up in the Eastern part of the country in defense of a major avenue of approach. Word on the grapevine said that the Marines would see fighting by the middle of this month, said one corpsman attached to the battalion.
"The major rumor is that Congress made a ruling that Oct. 15 is the last day of peace talks," said Seaman Kevin D. Joyner, 20, of Richmond, Va. "So (now) we're all waiting for all hell to break loose," said Joyner, who had been serving a one-year tour on Okinawa before he received orders to deploy with the 1st Battalion, 6th Regiment.
NEWS HAS been so slow that the battalion scouts have started a "bum scoop association," said Lance Cpl. Jim Jacobs, 21, from Pekin, Ill.
"We've heard a lot of rumors," said Jacobs, who works as a sniper with the scout team. "There's one that says we'll be out by Dec. 15 — that's when our relief is coming," he said.
"Another big rumor going around is that Iraq is pulling out of Kuwait," said Lance Cpl. John Burns, 20, an artillery forward observer from Chicago. "And there's also a rumor that (singer) Paula Abdul is coming to entertain us," said Burns, who was stationed on Okinawa for 18 months before being assigned to the unit.
SOME OF the hearsay is based on fact.
"There's a rumor that Dec. 1 is when we go home," said Bennett, the mortarman. "We were originally scheduled to go home Jan. 1 from Okinawa, so that makes sense. Plus, 65 percent of the battalion is `short' and soon due to finish their enlistments in the Marines," Bennett said.
Concerning the date fighting may start, he said, "You hear a bunch of things ... we heard that on Jan. 1 the war will start like a big fireworks show to kick off the new year."
Regardless of the rumors of war, none of the Marines in the battalion seem to be eager for the shooting to start. They realize that they have much to lose if fighting does erupt. Like many other Marines, soldiers and sailors deployed to Desert Shield, they hope that their presence alone will help solve the crisis peacefully.
"None of us here are scared to do it (fight)," said Bennett. "But in the back of our minds, maybe we hope it doesn't happen."