A sudden blast jolted Neal Gouker awake.
The explosion from an Iraqi Scud missile slammed him against a wall in his barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
"The place was on fire, and bullets were going off," recalled Gouker, 50, formerly of Glassport. "For 5 miles around, there were broken windows. It was chaotic.
"My left side was hit with shrapnel. It hit a nerve, and I had temporary paralysis and a bad limp on my left side. I had to work through that."
Three decades have passed since that devastating attack on the Westmoreland County-based 14th Quartermaster Detachment.
But the date — Feb. 25, 1991 — forever changed the lives of Gouker and 42 other members of the Army Reserve unit who were wounded, and the families of 13 others in the water purification outfit who didn't survive the missile strike at the end of
Operation Desert Storm. The military operation, part of the Gulf War, began Jan. 16, 1991, to expel Iraq forces that had invaded Kuwait. The five-week air and sea bombardment on Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition officially ended Feb. 28.
Gouker, who served as a mechanic during the Desert Storm deployment, now lives in Conway, S.C., near Myrtle Beach. The Scud attack left him with a bad back and substantial loss of hearing in his left ear, but he has found it's gotten easier through the passing years to deal with the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered.
Still, he said, "Sometimes you have nightmares. Sometimes you'll not be able to sleep at all."
Retired from a post-military career in the heating and cooling industry, Gouker said he fully supports the decision of his son Nathan to join the Army, despite the trauma he experienced. On Feb. 4, the younger Gouker graduated from basic combat training and advanced individual training for military police at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. He is stationed overseas, his family said.
"Just because the pain hits you, it doesn't mean you don't still serve," Neal Gouker said.
Gouker attended past Feb. 25 memorial ceremonies held at the 14th Quartermaster headquarters in Hempfield. He regrets he won't be able to be on hand this year to renew ties with fellow survivors and families of the fallen.
"They were my unit, my best friends, my family," he said.
Because of health protocols related to the covid-19 pandemic, this year's ceremony will be held privately, limited to 14th Quartermaster survivors, families and Army personnel. One family member is expected to play "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes.
"It will still allow the families to get together," said 1st Lt. Kaitlyn Gorgone, company commander. "We want to make sure they feel respected."
'Pulled together by a tragedy'
The bond shared by those touched by the attack provides a sense of comfort for a number of area families, including Norman and Darla Madison of Monessen. Their son, Anthony, 27, died in the attack.
A few years ago, the Madisons organized a picnic in Sutersville for fellow 14th Quartermaster families.
"We are like a big family now," said Darla Madison. "We were pulled together by a tragedy, and we console each other. It's like yesterday, even though it's been 30 years."
Anthony Madison served two years in the Army before joining the Reserve. He was called to duty in the Middle East just days before losing his life in the barracks, leaving behind two young children.
Following in his father's footsteps, Anthony Madison Jr. joined the Army, serving more than a decade — with tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany and Korea — before being medically discharged, Darla Madison said.
Raising a family in Texas, "he's just like his dad," she said.
Two Indiana County families who each lost a daughter in the attack have remained close through the years.
Darlene and Frank Mayes of Rochester Mills still feel the loss of Christine, who was 22, while Robert and Connie Clark of East Wheatfield keep alive the memory of Beverly, who was 23.
In addition to memorial services, more joyful occasions have brought the two families together. "Every time they have a wedding or a christening, we go," Frank Mayes said of the Clark family.
Christine Mayes was upholding a family tradition of military service when she joined the Army and spent three years in Germany. Her father served with an Army signal corps based in France in the early 1960s. Two uncles also saw time in uniform.
"She started out as a cook, then went up through the ranks and ended up as a supply person," Frank Mayes said of his daughter. "She really liked the Army. That's why, when she got out, she went in the Reserves.
"She was only in the Reserves a few months when they got the call to Iraq."
She got engaged before she deployed.
The Mayes family was glued to the television once they heard the news about the Scud attack. Then, their worst fears were confirmed.
"They showed a girl that they were covering up, and it was Chris," Frank Mayes said. "That was hard."
In addition to memorials honoring the lost 14th Quartermaster members, Christine Mayes is remembered with a memorial at Pine Grove Cemetery. A bridge over Little Mahoning Creek, not far from her family's home, also bears her name.
"We think of her all the time," Mayes said of his daughter. "You're going to do that until the day you're dead."
The Route 56 bridge that spans the Conemaugh River, linking Indiana and Westmoreland counties, has been dedicated as the Specialist Beverly S. Clark Memorial Bridge. A fitness center was named in her honor at Fort Lee, the Virginia base where 14th Quartermaster members trained for their mission in the Middle East.
"She was in a lot of sports and was very into fitness," Connie Clark said. "We think of her like she was still here. She's a big part of our family even though she's gone."
Beverly Clark had planned, upon returning from Desert Storm duty, to pursue teacher training at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
"She loved kids," her mother said.
Friends, family and colleagues honored the fallen reservist's career aspirations by establishing the Beverly Sue Clark Scholarship at IUP. It is awarded to a student preparing for a career in teaching who has military experience and good academic standing. Since 2000, it has provided $108,310 to 41 students.
Several recipients have sent cards of thanks to the Clarks.
"It helped them to fulfill their dreams, and it helped her to go on with her dreams," Connie Clark said.
This article is written by Jeff Himler from Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.