Darryl Townsend shows a map of Iraq to his sons Sam, left and Drew showing the areas where he was stationed during the first Persian Gulf War in 1990

By: Joseph Cyr November 18, 2002

THOMASTON - The threat of war with Iraq is once again on the minds of many Midcoast residents, but for the many who served in the first Persian Gulf War, those thoughts never left.

Darryl Townsend, 35, of Thomaston was one of thousands to serve his country in the Middle East during the first Gulf War and still suffers from the effects of Gulf War Syndrome from his tour of duty more than 10 years ago.

"I think it (war) will honestly happen again," Townsend said. "If things are as they say and (Saddam) Hussein still has all those chemical weapons or is making weapons of mass destruction, absolutely. We need to stop him. I hope we can remove him from power by any means possible. He is an evil person.

"I was fortunate enough to spend time there, so my thoughts and opinions on those people and their religion is probably different from what a lot of other people feel."

Townsend spent six month in the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, in the weapons platoon of the 1st and 2nd Marine divisions.

As a weapons specialist, Townsend's role in the Middle East was to destroy enemy vehicles with anti-tank missiles and other explosives.

"It was pretty intense," he said. "You did not have a whole lot of time to reflect on what is happening. It's like playing sports in that we were doing what we practiced to do."

His platoon would find Iraqi soldiers suffering from starvation and various injuries suffered during early waves of attacks.

"The things they did to their own people were terrible," he said. "We came into Kuwait city in the first day of the ground war and the city was pretty much destroyed."

Townsend said probably more should have been done during the first attacks on Hussein.

"In my own opinion, I think if it had been more like it is now - a United States pushed thing instead of a United Nations thing - we would have ended up in Baghdad," Townsend said. "A person like Saddam can't control and terrorize the rest of the world. It's a terrible thing. I'm not a warmonger, but I feel strongly that I wouldn't want it to happen here. If we allow things to go unpunished, then we are not doing our job as a world power."

A 1985 graduate of Georges Valley High School, Townsend returned to his alma mater following his tour of duty to coach soccer for the Buccaneers. For the past eight seasons, Townsend has guided the GVHS girls' soccer team into one of the elite squads in the Mountain Valley Conference.

He was discharged in 1992, capping a six-year stint in the military. He had been promoted to weapons platoon sergeant prior to suffering an eye injury that ended his military career.

Two years after his discharge, Townsend sought medical attention for unknown illnesses that he feared were related to his time in the Gulf.

"I had been home for a couple of years and it got to the point where I knew I wasn't healthy," he said. "I was always a pretty strong guy, so I knew I was having problems. My hands would cramp shut. It was beyond the normal aches and pains."

He spent time in a veterans hospital in Boston for treatment of Gulf War Syndrome and was originally making monthly visits to the hospital. Since then, he has scaled back his trips, instead focusing on a healthy balanced diet of herbs and supplements that have helped regulate his condition.

There are a long list of symptoms for Gulf War Syndrome. For Townsend, the ailment has resulted in bouts of nausea, body aches and pains, sleep disorders and muscle cramps.

"I can tell when I am getting a good wave of it, so I have to prepare myself because it knocks me out of whack for a couple of days. There's nothing that can be done about it. You learn to deal with it."

Townsend never planned on a military career while attending GVHS. At graduation, he was presented with a Marine Corps scholarship and, after discussing the military with his parents, decided to give it a try.

"I really wanted to fly helicopters," he said. "But I also wanted to finish school (at the University of Maine-Farmington) and play soccer."

Townsend suffered a blast explosion to his eyes that caused scarring to his corneas. He has had vision problems since.

"I go through the Gulf War pretty much unscathed and then I tear my knee up playing soccer," he said. "I had a lot of injuries to my knees prior to that."

The knee injury was the final straw for his military career. He was scheduled to begin training for scuba diving prior to the knee injury, but was unable to complete that assignment. He could have remained in the military in a nonfighting capacity, but opted for retirement.

"It's hard to go from being in a weapons platoon with the guys to being a guy in supplies or administration," he said. "I love the Marine Corps and would have stayed for a long time. But, if you are not able to perform at the physical level you need to, you have to be able to recognize that. If you can't get it done, don't mess up the whole team, just bow out gracefully."

Townsend said the United States is more the capable of handling a battle on two fronts, as both Hussein and Osama bin Laden must be dealt with.

"We might get spread a little thin and lose focus of the whole terrorism thing, but we have pretty broad shoulders here in the United States. We have dealt with a lot of tough issues in the past. To think we are unable to handle two tasks is silly.

"In combat, you have to deal with multiple tasks, albeit on a smaller scale, but it's all attention to detail. We should be able to deal with the terrorism issue and the creation of weapons of mass destruction issue."

To be successful in the Middle East this time, Townsend said, the United States needs to do a lot of the same things it did in its first military action.

"There is no question we can control them in the air and on the ground," Townsend said. "I guess you have to define what successful would be. What is our goal? Is it to tear up Southeast Asia again or is it to eliminate Saddam Hussein? It can't be done democratically. He will have to be terminated, along with all his cronies. It has to go deep."

Townsend said bin Laden must also be found and dealt with swiftly. However, any military action will likely take time.

"It all depends on how tactful we want to go about it," he said. "If we want to go and eliminate them, we can do that. But we can't just go and destroy the place because there would be effects. We can't think 'Let's just drop the hammer and kill them all' type of attitude. That can't happen. Yes, mistakes will happen, but that is war. It's not a nice thing."

While Townsend understands there will be those opposed to military action in Iraq, he feels keeping people informed is the best way to educate.

"It bothers me to see people protesting, but I want them to be able to stand opposed," he said. "You can say and do whatever you want, but until you have helped provide the security you enjoy right now, it's hard for me to listen to someone be negative. There is a big price to pay for freedom."

Townsend said any military action would likely take a few years to complete. Surprisingly, Townsend said he will not miss being a part of the action.

"It won't be difficult for me not to be a participant," he said. "I served my time. I don't need to go back. I am not a player anymore. I need to let someone who is bigger and better than I am go get the job done. I know how difficult it is on yourself and your family. You live with it for a long, long time."

©Courier Gazette 2002