Tuesday, February 20, 2001

Gulf War moms share pain, pride

10 years ago, their sons died freeing Kuwait

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Lue Hutchinson and Sally Edwards lost their sons,William “Tommy” Butts and Jonathan “Jack” Edwards, in the Gulf War.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Marine Capt. Jonathan “Jack” Edwards was the first Gulf War casualty buried at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

        Army Staff Sgt. William “Tommy” Butts was among the last.

        Ten years later, as the anniversary of the end of the Gulf War approaches, their mothers will visit their sons' graves, united by war, death and grief.

        As they have every February for the past nine years, Sally Edwards and Lue Hutchinson will join other families in the nation's capital honoring sons and daughters lost to the war.

        And in a way, the Tristate women also will honor their special friendship, spawned in a desert more than 6,000 miles away.

        “Not a day goes by that I don't think about him,” Ms. Edwards, a Terrace Park resident, said of her son. “Lue understands. She's there if I need a hug. She's there if I need to talk.”

        “It's like we've known each other all our lives,” said Mrs. Hutchinson of Falmouth.

        In 1991, their sons, Capt. Edwards, 34, and Sgt. Butts, 30, were killed within weeks of each other in Operation Desert Storm during the Persian Gulf War, two of a half-dozen Tristate residents who died.

        This Sunday, the mothers and their families will join survivors of more than 300 military personnel killed during the war at a ceremony at Arlington. It is sponsored by No Greater Love, a Washington-based nonprofit created in 1971 to honor fallen members of the military as well as other casualties of disasters or acts of violence.

        Tears flow often during the three-day trips to Washington. And the two women say they sometimes struggle to squelch the feelings of anger and resentment that surface. But they rely on their bond to get through those times, offering one another a hug, a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold.

        “We save each other a lot,” Ms. Edwards said.

        The ceremony at Arlington Cemetery provides a stopover for the women's annual gravesite visits with their sons.

        The trip also includes dinner at the Kuwaiti Embassy, where all the surviving family members dine with that country's ambassador and other foreign dignitaries. Each year those dignitaries reiterate their gratitude for American intervention after the Iraqi siege of Kuwait, and express their sorrow over the losses the conflict caused.

        Ms. Edwards and Mrs. Hutchinson also use the time to make new friends with families of the other military personnel killed during the Gulf War.

        The two women began corresponding in 1991 when Ms. Edwards sent Mrs. Hutchinson a sympathy letter shortly after the death of Sgt. Butts. It was one of several she sent to the families of local soldiers who were killed in the Gulf.

        “I knew how they felt, and I wanted (the families) to know they weren't alone,” Ms. Edwards said. “Lue was the only one to respond.”

        “I thought it was so nice of her,” Mrs. Hutchinson said of the letter. “She expressed her sorrow and said she understood because she had lost her son, too. She didn't have to do that. Something just made me call her, and now it's like we've known each other forever.”

        Capt. Edwards was killed Feb. 2, 1991, when his AH-1 Cobra helicopter went down as he was providing cover for a medical mission in Saudi Arabia. “That's all you want to know about that,” said Ms. Edwards, a slight hitch in her voice.

        Sgt. Butts was killed Feb. 27, 1991, a day before the cease-fire agreement that ended the war was signed. The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter he was in was shot down during a rescue mission to recover the pilot of a downed F-16 jet in Iraqi territory.

        “He didn't have to go. But he volunteered. That's the kind of man he was,” Mrs. Hutchinson said of her son.

        He had enlisted in 1979 and was stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala., at the time of his deployment to the Persian Gulf. One of nine children, he left behind a wife and two children.

        Capt. Edwards, a graduate of Ohio State University, lived in Grand Rapids, Mich., and worked in a stock brokerage firm before the Gulf War. He had two older sisters and was married with three children.

        On her desk at home, Ms. Edwards' keeps a picture of her son, dressed in his Marine fatigues, on her desk. Not a day goes by that she doesn't think of him.

        “I have this,” she said of the picture. “He is here.”

        Though painful, next week's remembrance ceremony is something each woman looks forward to. Both are grateful to No Greater Love and the other organizations that have helped them along the way.

        For Ms. Edwards, though, gratitude is more than a word. It is an act that she strives for every day.

        “There is no way we can thank them, except to help others — to be as selfless and as giving as they were,” she said.

        “That's all that matters. That we help one another.”

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