Today we complete our series on veterans’ memorials in Suwannee County.
After the end of the Vietnam conflict, the United States military entered a period of downsizing and reorganization as a result of lessons learned. By the early 1980s, the heightened state of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and its allies led to massive expansion under President Ronald Reagan.
Small actions in locations like Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989) and elsewhere honed the American armed forces, especially special operations. In August 1990, President Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded the neighboring country of Kuwait, a small but oil-rich constitutional monarchy. President George H. W. Bush formed a coalition of forces to stop Iraq. Dubbed “Operation Desert Shield,” nearly one million troops and associated support forces (of which 700,000 were from the United States) gathered in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries over a period of several months. Suwannee County’s 269th Engineering Company was among those called up for service on Nov. 21, 1990. They spent much of their time preparing defenses and infrastructure for the hundreds of thousands of military personnel flowing into the region.
In January 1991, after Iraq refused to withdraw from Kuwait, the Coalition initiated an air campaign against Iraqi forces and infrastructure. In February, the ground war began. Within a short time, the technological superiority of the Coalition forces showed over the large but inadequate Iraqis. For a loss of less than 300 military personnel (not including Kuwaiti losses), between 25,000 and 50,000 Iraqi troops were killed and Kuwait was quickly liberated. Saddam Hussein’s once powerful military was crushed and the survivors fled. The Gulf War was one of America’s shortest and most one-sided victories of its entire history, although it was not quite as short as the War against the Free State of Van Zandt (which lasted a couple of days) or the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 (which lasted all of 40 minutes).
As a young teenager, I remember the build-up to the war, the parade held in honor of our local troops, the memorabilia that was for sale (I still have a Desert Shield shirt somewhere…), and watching the war on the television each night with my family. “Shock and awe” is the phrase I still remember the most about the crushing victory. The country’s response to its returning servicemen was a far cry from that of Vietnam, and parades were held everywhere. The 269th was released from Federal service on May 16, 1991, and returned to Suwannee County triumphantly.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States was plunged into a different kind of war, a war against terrorism which continues to this day. Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locales have seen the blood, sweat, and tears of our men and women shed once again. As part of the War on Terror, the local 269th Engineering was once again called up for active duty, entering Federal service on Feb. 3, 2003, and being released on June 19, 2004.
Suwannee Countians continue to serve the United States military in a variety of fields. Veterans Memorial Park, the American Legion, and various cemeteries continue to memorialize these men and women for posterity. Events such as July 4 celebrations, Veterans’ Day parades and ceremonies, and others remind us of their sacrifice. Let us continue to honor them, and I, for one, thank you for your service.
Different history next week!
Eric Musgrove can be reached at email@example.com or 386-362-0564.