Doug Hinton’s roots run deep in Rockdale. His kinfolk settled in Rockdale County in the 1800s. His parents and grandparents rest in peace at Green Meadows; a great-uncle was killed on Iwo Jima; his great-grand parents are interred at Eastview; his Civil War relatives rest in peace at Smyrna Presbyterian camp ground. But his new bride, Cindy, was born and raised in Yankeetown, Fla. Go figure.
A 1985 graduate of Heritage High School, Hinton received an appointment to the Merchant Marine Academy from Senator Sam Nunn.
Hinton said, “ROTC at Heritage prepared me for the Academy, but within two years I decided on another path.” That ‘path’ was attending Valdosta State with his first wife. “I needed a degree to receive a commission in the US Marines, but I came to realize a military life would not be conducive to family life, so I chose the Reserves in 1988.”
On August 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded neighboring Kuwait. The international reaction entered world history as The Gulf War. One week before Thanksgiving Hinton’s unit, C Company of the 8th Marine Tank Battalion, was called up for active duty. He recalled, “Our family Thanksgiving wasn’t a happy affair since I had to report for duty on Monday.”
Sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for deployment, Hinton said, “It was the biggest single gathering of Marines since World War II - 23,000 Leathernecks priming for war.” Hinton flew via commercial airline into the Port City of Jubail (Al Jubayl), Saudi Arabia as part of the 2nd Marine Division.
No alcohol, no girly magazines, leave the women alone, and be discreet with your Bibles. Hinton and the US Marines were definitely on foreign soil. “The first thing we did was repaint our equipment in desert camouflage since everything was still painted green and stuck out like sore thumbs,” he recalled.
Hinton was assigned a huge wrecker with a big boom on back for retrieving stuck or battle-damaged vehicles and unloading tank ammo. Asked if he had received training to unload munitions, Hinton said, “Nope.” Asked if they’d been trained in desert warfare, he replied, “Nope.”
Christmas Eve, 1990 – The Marines move north toward the Kuwaiti border.
The sand was rock hard, the temperature a surprising 80 degrees, the nights chilly, rain and hail in the barren desert. Marines donned jackets in January to break the chill.
Jan. 17, 1991 – The air war begins.
Hinton recalled, “We saw planes overhead as they approached the border with their running lights on. As soon as they hit the border those running lights disappeared and you only heard the thunder of jet engines.”
One week later – “It was a bright, clear day. We started hearing rumbles, louder and louder. Over the horizon we saw a group of B-52s approaching, awfully low. They crossed the border, did a U-turn then released their bombs. We were almost 10 miles away and could feel the ground shake for over a minute.”
Feb. 23, 1991 – The ground war commences.
Hinton’s unit is equipped with the M-60 Vietnam era tank, nowhere near the capability of the M-1 Abrams. The M-60s will be used to breech mine fields with an anticipated casualty rate from mines and artillery at 70 percent.
4:45am – Hinton and a two man crew sit in their wrecker awaiting the word to move forward.
They’re given three boxes of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) with 24 or 36 meals per box since the fog of war can isolate troops without resupply. Hinton recalled, “We moved out through the berms into the first mine field. We were so nervous we ate a whole box of MREs.”
Humvees armed with anti-tank rockets, troop trucks and tanks were now in harm’s way. A tank hit a mine. “It blew the track off, but thankfully the crew was okay,” said Hinton. The first row of mines started 3 miles beyond the border. “You could see them sticking up.”
After three more miles the convoy hit the second minefield. “The barbed wire and mines were thick. You could see mines 5 feet apart.” The Marines wore the MOPP suits (chemical suits), just in case. “We couldn’t take chances,” Hinton said. “One of the trucks detected gas, but that was never confirmed. Thank God they didn’t use the chemical weapons against us.”
Iraqi artillery opened up on the convoy. “A chopper came up, let loose a salvo of rockets and machine gun fire, and, well, ‘All’s quiet on the Western Front’ so to speak.”
More Iraqi artillery opened up, and then something incredible happened – the Iraqi military started surrendering in droves.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Hinton said. “We’d get a token round fired at us then they’d give up, hundreds of them.”
Hinton said, “Some of their soldiers were still in street shoes, having been hijacked off city streets. Our tanks no longer stopped for POWs, there were too many, so we ended up dealing with prisoners. Strange thing was, they didn’t really act scared but grateful they’d been captured, and happy to receive decent food. They’d fight over a pack of Kool-Aid.”
The much feared Iraqi Army turned out to be starving and pitifully under-equipped to face the Allied Coalition. By the end of the first day, 400 Iraqi prisoners were being guarded by M-16s and AK-47s that the US Army had captured. The wrecker was used later that night. “The US Army swung to the west for a flanking movement right into a minefield. A Humvee went up in smoke and fire. We had to retrieve the vehicle; the Humvee driver didn’t make it.”
Moving steadily towards Kuwait City, Hinton and his unit witnessed the horrors of war. “We saw the ‘highway of death’ and other things that made us glad that we were not on the receiving end of our awesome firepower. Many Iraqi soldiers died, but that’s war and it’s best to end it quickly.”
Saddam Hussein’s “Mother of all Battles” lasted 100 hours; his army was defeated and his military hardware reduced to junk. Hinton remained in Kuwait City for a couple of weeks to assist the citizenry and eventually flew home from the same port city.
After an eight year stint in the Reserves, Hinton returned to civilian life and earned a degree in Civil Engineering Technology. As a registered professional engineer, he presently works for Corporation Environmental Risk Management.
Doug and Cindy married May 19 of this year and spent their honeymoon as Guardians of WWII veterans on the May 22 Honor Flight to Washington, DC.
When asked why, Hinton replied, “My war was over in a few months. Some of the veterans on the Honor Flight stayed overseas in WWII for years. It’s the least Cindy and I could do for these guys.”
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, freelance writer and columnist. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.