UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) - An unarmed chaplain stands in the sands of Iraq on the border with Saudi Arabia.
Seated in front of him is a group of heavily armed soldiers, some of whom have small books in their hands and appear to be following along as the chaplain reads from the Bible.
The image, just one of more than 900 pictures taken by Desert Storm veteran Patrick Finan is “perhaps my favorite from the war.”
“That was a moment of rare insight into history,” Finan said while sitting in his house in Uncasville recently.
“‘Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil,’ which was one of the lines that he was reading as I was photographing it,” Finan recalled. “It’s a tradition in Christian armies, Western Christian armies, to read Psalm 23 before battle. But it’s historically … whether you’re an Assyrian, whether you’re a Babylonian, an Israelite, you pray before battle.”
The image, “which would’ve greatly upset a lot of people in that culture had they known what we were doing out there and had we given a damn about them,” and hundreds of other 35mm chrome, black and white and color negatives from his private collection soon will be part of the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project.
Finan also plans to donate his combat journal.
He is making the donation in honor of the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, commonly referred to as the first Gulf War.
The conflict began on Jan 17, 1991, after Iraqi forces - under President Saddam Hussein - invaded Kuwait and refused to withdraw. The conflict lasted just 43 days.
Finan, who grew up on Parkway South in New London, hasn’t seen his photographs in more than 15 years.
In 1999, while working on a book for the 10th anniversary of Desert Storm, he lost his eyesight to a type of retinitis, and was never able to finish it.
But the images he took 25 years ago are still fresh in his mind, as Finan said he has a photographic memory.
Finan’s images were taken throughout Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait while in theater and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, from Jan. 6, 1991, to May 16, 1991.
“From my standpoint, I told the story of a war that no one had access to from a soldier’s perspective as honestly as I could,” he said.
Finan served in the Army from 1981 to 1991, mostly in the artillery. He left active duty in 1989 to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology, and subsequently joined the Army reserves as a photojournalist.
When the Army began looking for volunteers after Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Finan volunteered immediately.
He deployed as part of the XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery, a heavy field artillery unit, and spent three months in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait, most of that time in Basra, Iraq.
Finan was a cannon crewman but he also was assigned as a driver and radio operator for the battalion executive officer, “so I went everywhere,” he said.
Many of the images are, of course, militaristic: a heavy tank from the 24th Mechanized Infantry assigned to the western campaign, a soldier sitting on a 50-caliber M2 ring mount on a M548A1 ammunition carrier with an American flag streaming in the breeze and a “POW/MIA” flag underneath it, a group of soldiers - some of whom are holding up their fingers in the shape of a “V” for victory - with the 82nd Airborne Division on the day of the invasion, an M109 tank with the words “We kill for fun” graffitied on it.
“American G.I.s are famous for graffitiing on their vehicles and weapons,” Finan said. “It was absolutely verboten on the active duty side.”
There are images that document destruction, such as a picture Finan took while driving in a Humvee of the “Highway of Death,” a six-lane highway between Kuwait and Iraq, where wrecked and abandoned vehicles were strewn for miles.
Iraqi military personnel and civilians were attacked by American aircraft and ground forces while retreating from Kuwait. In the image, the vehicle’s side view mirror shows how far back the wreckage stretches.
Other images are more sensitive in nature: A Vietnam War veteran with one arm wrapped around his son’s shoulders in the desert in Iraq, close-up shots of soldiers during their day-to-day routines.
Others give a glimpse of the Iraqi citizens and their way of life: a young Iraqi boy with a solemn look on his face holding up his fingers in the shape of a peace sign, a very pregnant Iraqi woman clutching the arm of a young boy.
No one questioned why Finan was taking photos or went through his film, perhaps in part because he had photo credentials from his time in public affairs for the reserves.
“The only thing they ever asked me not to do was to photograph inside of the tactical operations center where there would be maps, things like that,” he said.
Finan was one of about 697,000 U.S. troops who took part in Desert Storm, according to Department of Defense. Of the U.S. troops who served, 299 lost their lives.
Desert Storm “was the largest mobilization of the National Guard since the Korean War … and the first mobilization for a combat action since the Vietnam War,” Lt. Gen. John B. Conaway, then the chief of the National Guard Bureau, wrote in an annual review from fiscal year 1991.
Afterward, it led to a lot of internal initiatives such as “how to make Guard units accessible for humanitarian assistance as well as for contingencies,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Larrabee, historian for the Army.
According to Larrabee, 62,411 Army National Guard soldiers in 398 units were mobilized, 1,132 soldiers volunteered for active duty and 37,848 soldiers served in theater.
As for the Air National Guard, 10,456 airmen in 330 units were mobilized, 1,948 airmen in 28 units volunteered and 4,877 airmen served in theater.
“I’m stepping away from this moment in history,” Finan said of his donation.
The donation is the first from the Gulf War that Megan Harris, senior reference specialist for the Veterans History Project, has seen in a while.
“We are getting larger collections from earlier conflicts in fairly frequently,” Harris said.
The collections related to the Gulf War are mostly audio or video interviews with veterans. Overall, very few of the project’s collections feature more than 20 to 30 photographs.
So Finan’s image-heavy donation is “a really great addition because it helps to diversify our holdings from that conflict,” Harris said.
The next feature for the project’s online exhibits is on the Gulf War. It will debut in early March and spotlight nine to 12 collections “that really represent a wide range of experiences and perspectives,” Harris said.
Information from: The Day, https://www.theday.com
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