For me, February 25, 1991 was an unforgettable day. It was on that day that I was stationed aboard the USS Missouri doing shore bombardment off the coast of Kuwait. Not only were we in an Iraqi minefield, but we were very close to shore.
As we bombed the shore installations, the Kuwaiti oil wells were afire, lit by the retreating Iraqi army. The air was filled with a dense, black smoke. At one point, the alarm was sounded for a gas attack, so we all quickly donned our gas masks, not knowing what would become of us all.
At that point, claustrophobia set in. If you’ve ever worn a gas mask, or any kind of mask really that restricts your breathing, you may know the feeling. But it was especially eerie knowing that poison gas could be lurking nearby, just waiting to overtake us. Then I began to itch. The tip of my nose got an awful itch. But there was nothing I could do. No way to scratch without removing my mask. Definitely not worth the risk.
Just then, our hearts already pounding away, knowing we were under attack, the Captain yelled into the ship’s loudspeaker, “MISSILE INBOUND! ALL HANDS BRACE FOR SHOCK!”
At this point, not only could we not breathe, but we had to find something strong enough to hang onto before the missile slammed into us. “Don’t forget to bend your knees, so they can act as shock absorbers on impact!”
I could hear on my headset chatter that the lookouts had spotted the missile heading our way. Then they saw two streaks launch from our neighboring ship, the HMS Gloucester, towards the missile. SPLASH ONE VAMPIRE! (Inbound missiles are nicknamed vampires.) Hoots and hollers cried out! They got it! What the heck happened? I’m not sure. Was it close? I don’t know.
But a nervous relief set in. We narrowly missed that close call, thanks to our friend riding shotgun, the Gloucester.
I read recently, that sadly, the HMS Gloucester is taking her final voyage to the scrapyard. It will be an ignoble ending to a courageous lady who saved our behinds. I’ve never met a sailor who was on that ship that day. But if I ever do, I’d like to shake his hand.