One local soldier home, many more still in Gulf

Posted: Thursday, July 24, 2003

Juneau resident Bill Williams can breathe easy now that his daughter, Spc. 1st Class Vanessa Williams, is back on American soil after seven months in the Persian Gulf.

Other Juneau families pass the days less happily, as guerilla attacks claim soldiers' lives daily and it's still anyone's guess when they are coming home.

Williams was at Hunter Airfield in Savannah, Ga., when his daughter, 22, arrived there last week from Iraq.

"There was no way Dad was going to miss his hero coming home," said Vanessa's stepmother, Theresa Williams.

Bill Williams said his daughter, a 1998 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, was very excited to be home. He said she was pleasantly surprised to see many yellow ribbons and flags and banners in Georgia, after having read news articles suggesting the American public wasn't supporting the troops.

"She was very afraid that the public wouldn't be receptive to her when she got home. Other than that, her big thing was looking forward to get a good meal and a bath and some clothes and feel like a woman again," Bill Williams said.

Vanessa Williams told her father that the most exciting moment of her tour of duty was when her unit arrived at Saddam Hussein's palace in Baghdad.

"She told me she was really amazed to see the devastation that a bomb does to buildings," he said.

As of Wednesday, 155 American servicemen had been killed in action since the war began March 20, according to The Associated Press.

Lisa Viteri, whose son, Spec. Michael Moniak, is somewhere north of Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division, said the statistics make her nervous.

"I'm supportive of our soldiers, and I'll remain supportive," she said. "But so many are dying. Every day a family gets somebody at their door and my heart breaks for them, and you also pray you're not going to become one of them."

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division killed Saddam Hussein's sons, Odai and Qusai, in a Tuesday attack, but it's unclear whether Moniak was one of them.

Viteri said her son doesn't know when he'll be home.

"Initially they said they'd come home soon, then they said they might be there as late as November, or April of next year," she said.

According to a memo on the Army plan obtained by The Associated Press, the 101st Airborne Division is due home in February and March.

Michelle Fenumia'i, 25, hears from her husband, Sgt. Lui Fenumia'i, 26, more frequently now that he has e-mail access. She said he'd originally thought they would be sent home in September, but now that's not looking likely.

"I just get my e-mails from the command back at Fort Stewart (Ga.), and they tell us not to expect him home soon. Any dates that I hear I disregard because I don't believe it anymore," Fenumia'i said.

She said her husband doesn't talk about his work when he calls from Iraq.

"He said the mosquitos are really bad, and it's very hot still and he doesn't really say much about the living conditions," she said.

Kathie Goddard hears from her son, Sgt. Lucas Goddard, more frequently too, which helps alleviate the fear from the daily reports of deaths.

"It's nerve-racking to hear that soldiers are killed, and the news isn't specific about what division the soldiers were that were killed," Goddard said. "I just hope the American people don't go about their daily business and forget all the soldiers that are putting their life on the line every day."

Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.



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