Loss fuels family's fear

March 31, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

Joe Kime Jr. already has lost a son to a U.S. war with Iraq. He doesn't want to lose his grandchildren to a second war with the Persian Gulf nation.

None of his two grandsons and three granddaughters are in the military, but Kime fears that increasing U.S. casualties in the war with Iraq could lead to the draft being reactivated. His grandchildren in Martinsburg and Hedgesville, W.Va., and in North Carolina are at or approaching draft age.

"I'm not antiwar or anything else," said the Korean War veteran and Jefferson County resident.

"I'm too old to go and I'm worried about my grandchildren. I don't want them to have to go over there and have to go through what myself and their father had to go through," said Kime, 70. "The difference is, I came back and their father didn't."


Army Capt. Joe Kime III was leading a company of Bradley fighting vehicles back to Kuwait City after a battle at the end of the war when his Humvee hit a land mine just outside the city on March 11, 1991, his father said.

Kime, 38, died from his wounds two days later while on a flight to a military hospital in Germany.

Besides his wife, Elizabeth, Kime was survived by his children, Nicole and Joseph IV, ages 11 and 8 at the time.

"You never get over it," said Kime's mother, Trudy.

She can still see and hear the sights and sounds of her son's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery. She and her husband walked behind their son's casket and a horse clopped along with boots backward in the stirrups to signify a fallen soldier.

She periodically updates a shrine to her eldest son in the guest room where he slept when visiting their Tuscawilla Hills home.

On the wall hang several pictures of Kime, notes of sympathy, a medal awarded him from the Kuwaiti government and a frame containing a picture of Kime in uniform, a letter of sympathy from President George H.W. Bush and Kime's five U.S. medals.

One of the medals Kime earned was a commendation for developing a way for gasoline to be transferred among moving ground vehicles, his father said.

"I betcha they're using that now," he said.

'Number came up'

The commendation put the career military man on a promotions list to become a major, but fate dealt Kime a different hand.

"His number just came up," his father said.

Twelve years ago, Kime Jr. wasn't sure whether U.S. forces should have been sent to free Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion. While he has mixed feelings about the current war in Iraq, Kime said this time U.S. forces should finish the job.

"It bothers me that they didn't finish it the first time. By quitting when we did, we quit the heroes," he said.

If the war had continued, there would have been more U.S. casualties, he said.

U.S. forces should have dismantled the Iraqi Republican Guard and removed all of their military equipment, which they have used to harm their own people, Kime said. If we can't finish the war this time, we shouldn't have started it, he said.

"Sometimes I'm glad that they're going back to finish it to get rid of Saddam," he said.

Kime said many world leaders appear too afraid to get involved in the war with Iraq for fear it will turn into a seemingly endless war like Vietnam.

"I just think they're over there doing their job and it's a dangerous job. They're not going to get through without people getting killed or wounded," Kime said.

On leave between serving in Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in December 1990, the younger Kime sat on the front porch of his father's Tuscawilla Hills home as the two discussed the differences between military operations then and when the elder Kime served in the Korean War.

They discussed the possibility of war and of Kime III being killed.

Kime Jr. said he would never forget his son's response.

"'I take the King's gold. I do the King's work. I'm paid to do a job. I'll do it,'" Kime Jr. recalled his son saying.

A mother's prayers

It's still difficult for Trudy Kime to talk about losing her son and she fears and prays for the U.S. soldiers in the war.

Despite their personal loss in the last war with Iraq, Trudy Kime said she hasn't been able to peel herself away from the constant news coverage of the war in Iraq. When she hears of U.S. troops killed, wounded or missing, she prays for them.

"I just ask God to help them, help the parents to get through it," she said.

"Nobody knows what it is to have someone come to the door to tell you," she said.

For the Kimes, that day came March 14, 1991.

Joe Kime Jr. remembers the exact words from the Army official: "'We regret to tell you, Mr. Kime, that your son was killed in action in Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm.'"

The couple learned of their son's death the previous evening from Joe Kime Jr.'s brother. Jack Lee Kime was working with the Army in Italy and had kept the family updated on his brother's condition.

At the invitation of the Kuwaiti government, the couple visited Kuwait City the following year. Kuwaiti officials wanted to thank the family members of the U.S. soldiers for allowing them to make the ultimate sacrifice.

"Well, I didn't exactly allow him," Kime Jr. said.

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