(by Aboud Dandachi)

Today, on May 25th 2020, Americans mark their Memorial Day, honouring US military service men and women who died while serving.

I lived my formative years in Dhahran in Eastern Saudi Arabia, in the early 90s. I still remember the shock of hearing of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait while on vacation in Syria in August 1990. Were it not for the commitment of the United States under President George Bush, Saddam would still have been there, dominating the oil reserves of the Gulf. Every Arab, Pakistani, Indian and Filipino who lived and worked in the Gulf owe the US a huge debt of gratitude for taking on Saddam Hussein and his million man army.

I still recall the first time I saw an American soldier. Our family were driving back to Dhahran from vacationing in Syria for the summer. We stopped at a supermarket, and an American soldier in battle fatigues was browsing some magazines. I had never seen a soldier like him. Tall, back straight, and fit as heck. The way he carried himself spoke of something I had never seen in Syrian soldiers; pride. Without saying a word, you could tell the dude was proud as hell of himself, and the uniform he wore.

Pride would be a motif I would hear repeated again and again on the radio station of the US Armed Forces. Back then, before satellite dishes became widespread, radio was still a major source of entertainment. My dad didn’t trust the news coming out of Saudi and Bahraini TV stations, so he got me a Sony 12 band FM, medium wave and short wave radio, with instructions to listen to every news channel possible on developments about events in the region and the Coalition military buildup (as if we couldn’t look out the windows and see the massive buildup going on).

Armed Forces radio was particularly entertaining. Nothing was censored, unlike on Saudi media. It was the first time I’d heard of a band called “2 Live Jews“, while visiting relatives in Riyadh (apparently Riyadh had its own station, different from Dhahran, and the talk on air was decidedly more…raunchy).

And in-between programs, snippets of motivational segments would time and again emphasize one word; pride. Pride in being in the Armed Services. Pride in America’s military heritage. Pride in doing a good job. Never before in my life had I heard the word “pride” bee associated with being in the military. In Syria, young men served because they were conscripted. It was always referred to as “wasted years”. The American soldiers I saw on the streets of Dammam did not look in the least as if they were counting down days. They looked like they had come over very ready to kick some Baathist ass. Even without knowing a thing about military matters, I had a gut feeling that one million Iraqi soldiers were going to be no match for a few hundred thousand Americans.

I will never forget the first time the Scuds came at Dhahran. We had sealed all the windows with friggin commercial tape because some officials had told us it would keep chemical weapons out, conveniently forgetting that every home in Saudi had a bloody AIR CONDITIONER!!!!!! It was through the vents of our central AC in the bathroom that I heard what sounded like…sirens…?

I went to my dad, “Hey dad, I think I hear sirens.”

In the living room, with the TV on and the windows sealed with tape, we couldn’t hear a thing. I went back to the bathroom…yep, definitely sounded like…BOOM! Suddenly the evening sky turned red and a big shock shook the house. The entire family ran downstairs to the safe room under the stairs. My two-year old half-brother couldn’t understand why we were all so scared. My pregnant step-mother was frantically reciting verses of the Quran. My dad, always so fiercely protective of his family, was helplessly cursing Saddam and all his forefathers. I had the Sony radio with me, and was listening in on the FM wave, the entire family looking at me for any news.

“OK…so some Scuds were fired at Dhahran…”

“Ibn el kalb!”

“Ya Allah, subhanaka ya rab…”

“What about chemical weapons, anything about that? How many people died? Are there more coming…?” frantic questions and demands for answers.

I listened for a bit…

“Dad, what’s a Patriot missile?”

I will never forget that moment. Heck, I get teary eyed even writing this. The realization that out there, the world’s finest military men and women had planned just for this eventuality and were working 24-hours a day to keep the city safe. During the Gulf War, the Americans defended Riyadh and Dhahran and Dammam as if they were American cities. 

Thank you America. For Patton and Eisenhower and Bradley and MacArthur and General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. How so very different from Syria’s military. When one thinks of the American army, one thinks of Midway. Normandy. The Battle of the Bulge. Okinawa. Korea. The dedication of the ordinary GI in Vietnam. The 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. When one thinks of the Syrian military, one thinks of the bloody 4th Armoured Division and their atrocities dating back to Hama in 1982.

I was especially surprised to discover that the US Military was made up exclusively of volunteers. In Syria, you couldn’t get any decent person to volunteer for the military. How did America manage to motivate so many of its people to sign up?

Pride. An American family might have members who had served all the way back to the First World War. Heck, if they were from Southern States, probably even further back. “My dad served, my dad’s dad served, and now I’m going to serve”. The military in America is a time-honoured and respected career choice. Although for much of the Vietnam War, America’s veterans were treated poorly back in the States, I can tell you that in early 1991, every person living in the Gulf wanted to buy an American in uniform an illicit drink.

Thank you America. Thank you for keeping us free during the Cold War. Thank you for all the sacrifices you have made. And God bless your fallen.