Rick Witherell of Tionesta, Pennsylvania served in the Army at the end of the Cold War, but when his reserve unit was called up during the Gulf War, he deployed to Kuwait.
“We fought a chemical war,” he says. Most people do not understand the toxic fallout from Iraqi scud missiles and the massive oil field fires that rained down on the troops. The effects were inescapable then–and now.
Yet for many years after the war the government was incapable or unwilling to recognize the peculiar illness brought home by the troops. “I’ve got Gulf War Syndrome,” Rick says. “I live with neurological pain every day of my life.”
Despite being the first day of spring 2014, it snowed the day we preserved the stories of five veterans from Tionesta, Pennsylvania: Victor Miesel, Lew Weingard, Rick Witherell, Lewis Cooke, and Bernie Polar.
We were enthusiastically invited to Tionesta by Mr. Miesel, an energetic 94 year old veteran of the Army Air Corps. We set up our mobile studio at Mt. Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. The quiet country location made for a perfect recording location.
We could not have asked for a more interesting day of amazing stories, the likes of which we’ve not heard before–ranging from the southern islands of the Pacific, post war Japan, the Kuwaiti desert, jungles of Vietnam, and the mountains of Korea.
“You’ve had a long day,” Victor consoled us. Sixteen hours from door to door. Sure, it was a long day, but we’re known to go the extra mile for a great story . . . or in this case, five of them!
Army Cold War and Gulf War veteran Rick Witherell of Tionesta, Pennsylvania talks with Kevin Farkas (director of Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Intiative) about chemical exposure and Gulf War Syndrome.