April 1-5, 1991: Farewell Dinner and the Sand-Table House

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Mon 1 Apr

It was dark and smoky in the morning, clearing later on. Most of us were idle in the morning. I spent the time reading. In the afternoon Wally Coyle and I went into town to check out the damage to the museum, mostly to escape. The museum was closed, the outside vandalized, and it was hard to find because there were no signs. Then we checked out the beach area west from the Kuwait Towers. At the harbor the Iraqis had burned all the wooden fishing boats to the waterline; like most things they did, this had no military value whatever.

After supper we watched a Kuwaiti actor who put on a mime presentation about the occupation. I appreciate the effort and feeling that went into it, but I also think mime is a pretty dumb and incomprehensible art form, and this was no exception.

Tue 2 Apr

We went out to Sabah as-Salem, Dhaher, and Sabahiya to sample water trucks for contamination. There have been reports that some water trucks, which were originally gasoline tankers, had not been sufficiently cleaned and were giving out contaminated water. We also visited the water treatment plant in Dhaher. As usual, the buildings were trashed and the lab was a disaster.

At 2000 we held a steak dinner for our interpreters.

A Farewell Dinner, April 2, 1991

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Wed 3 Apr

We spent the morning setting up for a ceremony at 1100 where the Minister of Education passed out certificates of appreciation for those involved in the clearing of schools. In the afternoon we went to Shuwaiba Port to check on a report CPT Yancy had heard of some refrigerator trucks. He planned to get them sent to Dhaher to replace their unserviceable freezer. Then we visited the 301st Area Support Group, where Yancy checked on getting the trucks sent to Dhaher and the rest of us checked out their scanty PX. Yancy heard from CPT Pressner that some shops were open on 5th Ring Road, so we checked up. We went all the way out to Doha without finding anything.

Just as we got in, Wally Coyle and several others were leaving to see the Sand Table House, a former Iraqi headquarters with a huge model of Kuwait. Wally and I got separated from the rest of the group, so we went to the Media Center. They had only a vague idea of what we were looking for, but suggested it might be in Yarmouk. After asking around a bit, we finally located it. The "house" turned out to be a small palace belonging to a member of the royal family. The sand table map was impressive, but the light was too poor for photography, so we'll come back later.

At 0800 formation this morning, we got convoy information for our departure. For the first time, I finally believe we're going home.

At 2100 we went to the co-op at Sabah-as-Salem for a farewell dinner. The food was a variety of rice and chicken dishes, all very good. Arab custom has the meal at the end of a social gathering, so dinner was not served until 2300. Our hosts stood by while we ate; this is also part of the custom, though it makes Americans a bit uncomfortable. We left at 0030 (half past midnight) with me driving. Between the late hour and the big meal, my reflexes were slow. There was a car in our lane, but I didn't realize it was stopped until we were almost on it. I braked too hard and went into a bad skid. Nobody was hurt and we didn't hit anything, but it was still plenty embarrassing, especially with LTC Christopherson in the front seat with me.

April 3, 1991

One of Kuwait's many attractive modern mosques. Gulf War Image
A route map for the trip home. The red arrows read:

This is North, Sir. The way we wanted to go last time when you got lost
This is Water. Do not drive here, sir.
This is your military south, sir. This is the way we want to go this time, sir.

Judging from the appended note, he took it in good humor. The note reads: "To the fighting 432d: Someone 'found' my --MAP--. Thus, we can (all) go home! Please sign (So I remember who's responsible for this...) Thanks, Mike.

Thu 4 Apr

We had no mission in the morning, so I caught up on lost sleep. In the afternoon Wally Coyle, Bill Seija, LT Tim Martinez and I visited the Sand Table house. The sand table is in the basement, in a luxurious sitting room with sunken picture windows, and is about 20 feet square. After 5 weeks in Kuwait, we can now pick out most of the features on the map, which are modeled with things like Lego blocks.

On the third floor is a room allegedly used for torture. The room boasted a weird assortment of furnishings. It seems to have been originally a laundry, and a large dryer seems to have been there originally. There was also an electrical device of unknown purpose; it looked like some sort of medical instrument and did not appear to have any obvious hookups for electrical torture. The oddest item was a box spring frame with various hand tools lying on it; a saw, plane, and other things. We had seen videotapes of this bed at the Media Center; victims were supposedly strapped to the frame and then tortured. What looked like dried blood on the videotape seemed more like rust in actual life. I don't doubt for a moment the Iraqis tortured people, and they may well have done it here, but Amnesty International would want more evidence than we saw here.

What is not in doubt was the way the Iraqis trashed every building they occupied. They did not totally loot this place, maybe because it was a main headquarters, but many of the rooms were filthy. A spectacular atrium contained a chandelier of green glass three stories tall, and the walls were lined with mirrors. To my amazement, the Iraqis left it intact.

Afterward, we went over to the shore near Rumathiya. The Iraqis had burned out the Show Biz Pizza place (with signs reading "Show Biz Pizza" in Arabic) and derailed a kiddie train nearby. Some crack Iraqi unit single-handedly took out 640 of Kuwait's rail capacity. Oil was washing ashore in small blobs, a taste of the much larger spills elsewhere.

I had duty NCO all night with CPT Pressner. I cleared up one mystery; there are several small walls on First Ring Road with wooden gates in them, all in small parks as if they are monuments of some kind. A guide to Kuwait I found said they were the old city gates, preserved when the mud brick walls were demolished in the 50's. Pressner relieved me from 2300-0300, but the headquarters area was perpetually lit and noisy, so it was hard to sleep.

Below: Oil on the beach near the Kuwait Towers. Beyond the barbed wire are mines.
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Gulf War Image Although we saw many examples of pointless Iraqi vandalism in Kuwait, this one takes the cake, or pizza. A burned-out ShowBiz Pizza parlor. The sign on the roof spells out "Show Biz Pizza Place" phonetically in Arabic.
Gulf War Image Next door, a derailed kiddie train. A crack Iraqi unit single-handedly took out 100 per cent of Kuwait's rail transportation!

The Sand-Table House

Gulf War Image This was a palace belonging to a member of the royal family. The Iraqis used it for a divisional headquarters.
Gulf War Image SSG Bill Seija (left) and SSG Wally Coyle (right) at the entrance.
The grand staircase inside.
Looking down from the grand staircase.
A toughra, or elaborate Arabic monogram.
Gulf War Image Typical of how the Iraqis trashed many of the places they occupied.
Given the vandalism we'd seen, we were astonished to see this multi-story glass chandelier intact. When the Iraqis were ordered to behave, they did.

The walls surrounding the chandelier are mirrored.

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Gulf War Image Off the chandelier atrium is a room said to have been used for torture. The bare bedsprings were probably hooked up to an electrical generator.
Gulf War Image The sand-table itself, a huge three-dimensional map of Kuwait, was in a basement and measured about ten meters square. By this time we could recognize just about everything on it.
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Down the street from the sand-table house is this attractive mosque. Gulf War Image

Fri 5 Apr

I got to bed at 0700, only to be awakened at 0900 as people came in and started tearing down their living quarters. Why they chose today is a mystery, because we are not leaving until Sunday and it only takes, at most, two hours to get everything ready to go. Some people were even so anxious to leave they wanted to tear everything down and pack yesterday. By the time the dust settled, I wasn't sleepy any more, but now we were stuck with almost two days of absolutely nothing to do. I read and played volleyball.

One humorous item: In commemoration of our wrong turn coming up here, somebody drafted a route map back for the Commander of the 352nd. It is endowed with labels like "This is water. Do not drive here sir" and "This is south, sir. This is the way you want to go, sir." Most of us autographed it.

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Created January 10, 2000; Last Update 11 June 2020

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