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Persian Gulf War, 25 years later: It was a crucial comeback
U.S. victory in Mideast eased Vietnam memories, but set stage for more fighting
Hubert “Gunny” Hunnicutt browses through box after box of military items he has collected as he organizes them for a museum at the Marine Corps League's Gainesville-based Upper Chattahoochee Detachment.

Hubert “Gunny” Hunnicutt fought in the Vietnam War, so he knows the meaning of quagmire and stinging military defeat.

But then for him came the Persian Gulf War, which in terms of combat was totally different. It was over in 43 days — and was virtually no contest, as thousands of Iraqi soldiers threw down their arms before the first weapons were fired.

“If we had faster equipment, we could have caught more of them,” said Hunnicutt, a member of the Marine Corps League’s Gainesville-based Upper Chattahoochee Detachment, recalling the ground campaign. “They were running from us and we were trying to overtake them.”

The Persian Gulf War, also known as the First Gulf War, was triggered 25 years ago today with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait — an event that helped ease Americans’ pain from the Vietnam War but also opened the U.S. to more Middle East conflict, including a second war with Iraq 13 years later.

“This (war) was significant for the U.S. military, which had come through the post-Vietnam malaise and on into the 1980s, when it had lost a lot of senior enlisted folks,” said Ron Martz, a former Atlanta journalist, educator and a Northeast Georgia resident.

The military had achieved “minor successes” in Panama and Grenada, but it “was searching for something it could look at and say ‘We’ve become the world’s premier military force again.’”

The Persian Gulf War would be “the post-Vietnam turning point for the military.”

U.S. response to Saddam Hussein’s aggression would be swift. Four days after the invasion, President George H. W. Bush ordered the deployment of U.S. armed forces to defend Saudi Arabia in an operation named “Operation Desert Shield.”

On Nov. 29, the UN Security Council authorized the use of force against Iraq if it did not withdraw from Kuwait by Jan. 15, 1991.

An allied coalition against Iraq also mounted, reaching 700,000 total troops.

The coalition’s military campaign started Jan. 16 with a massive U.S.-led air campaign.

The ground campaign started on Feb. 24 and quickly turned into an allied rout, dislodging Iraqi troops from Kuwait. The war ended with Bush declaring a cease-fire on Feb. 28.

Hunnicutt, who lives in Winder, remembers those days well. He had fought in Vietnam in 1967-68 and left the Marine Corps Reserve in 1972. He rejoined the Reserve in 1985 and was assigned to 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Mobile, Ala.

As the Persian Gulf War started, Hunnicutt was transferred to an infantry unit and went on to train in the desert in California. He was then sent to Saudi Arabia, where he trained again in the desert.

He recalled being moved “around every week or two to confuse the Iraqis as to where we were and how many (troops) we had.”

Once the invasion started, it was slowed by the massive surrender of Iraqis, many of whom were draftees, Hunnicutt said.

Resistance was spotty as his company advanced into Kuwait City.

Overall, though, the war “was all over pretty quick,” Hunnicutt said. “When the president said stop shooting, we stopped, and we just occupied the area for the next several months.”

He believes solid planning for the war “is why it ended so fast.”

How the war was conducted wouldn’t come under debate nearly as much as how the war ended, with Bush’s refusal to march to Baghdad and topple Saddam.

Martz, as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, was imbedded with U.S. invading forces. He recalls the cease-fire at 100 hours and the column of tanks on the highway to Baghdad.

“The thinking was let’s make that left turn, go to Baghdad and finish it now,” he said. “So, there was a little frustration over that, because I think everybody knew we were going to have to come back.”

Martz later returned as an embedded reporter for the AJC in the Iraq War, which began in 2003.

At the time, the Bush administration claimed Iraq’s possession of chemical weapons and its support for terrorist groups made the country a serious threat in the region.

Two months after the invasion, President George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished” while aboard the USS Abraham.

But the war was far from over. The occupation would go on, bloodily, as coalition forces sought to stabilize the country and turn the country back over to the Iraqis. By the time of the U.S. withdrawal in 2011, some 4,500 U.S. forces were killed in action — compared to some 300 total for the allies during the Persian Gulf War.

Also, allied forces battled Iraqi insurgents, leading to civil war in the country. Today, the Islamic State, a militant organization has emerged in the region, and the U.S. is battling back with airstrikes.

“I think the first President Bush is regarded much more highly than his son largely because he ... knew when to stop,” said Douglas Young, a professor of political science and history at the University of North Georgia Gainesville.

However, he added, “we still need some more time to figure out what the complete fallout of the second Gulf War was.”

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