Today my guest is Scott Stump, who is the CEO and President of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association which is working to build the Desert Storm/Desert Shield memorial near the National Mall in Washington, DC. We discuss:
- Reviewing the situation back at that time before and during the war
- His involvement in the war
- What inspired him to join the Marine Corps
- Saddam’s plan to make Kuwait part of Iraq
- What Saddam’s troops did to the Kuwaiti citizens during the occupation
- George H.W. Bush’s leadership during that time
- The mission of the coalition in the war
- What he thought about the recognition parade after the war; what it really meant
- What the memorial will highlight
- Explaining the “pivot” in the public’s view of the military
- How the permitting process went of getting the memorial near the Mall
- What the war memorial will look like and its message
- What makes the memorial unique compared to the other war memorials
Learn more and donate to the memorial: https://www.ndswm.org/
Help support Gayle’s RIGHT IN DC Podcasts: www.patreon.com/gayletrotter
Today, my guest is Scott Stump. Scott is the President and CEO of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association which is working to build the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial on the National Mall in D.C.
Scott, thank you so much for joining us.
Thanks so much for having me, Gayle. It’s an honor.
I was having breakfast with a mutual acquaintance of ours who is also a former military person, and we started talking about Scott and your efforts to build a memorial to Desert Storm, Desert Shield on the National Mall in D.C. I remember vividly when I was in college, I think it was second year of college, and I was in my sorority house and the news broke out that we were fighting back against Saddam Hussein rolling into Kuwait, and taking over a sovereign nation. That was truly the first time in my lifetime that I was plugged into military action to that degree, and I think part of it was because I was in college so a lot of my contemporaries were of military age.
Certainly, at that time, people thought from media reports that this was going to be a long slog, that we would lose many young men and women, and it was something that was on the top of everyone’s mind. Take us back to that moment. How were you involved in the build up to that moment?
Sure. First of all, I want to thank you for not saying you were in grade school, as so many people do, because then I start feeling really, really old.
You bring up a great point, Gayle, that people really do have a tendency to not remember the fact that there were some very dire predictions leading up to this. We had responded pretty quickly with Desert Shield. I believe it was August 7th which was, literally, five days after the invasion of the Iraqi forces into Kuwait. That led into a prolonged six, seven-month build up which was also to shield the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia, but really the entire Arabian Peninsula, was protected so that Saddam Hussein and his forces could not continue on and occupy the entire peninsula. It was a very tenuous time. It was very uncertain. We weren’t that far removed from Vietnam, and there was still a certain feel in the air of “Are we up to this?”
The media, God love them, but they weren’t the most supportive. I was a Marine Corp infantryman. Actually, I was in the reserves, and I was finishing my last course in college when I got the letter that said you have five days to report, and, by the way, make sure you have enough gear for 12 to 18 months. It was very uncertain. We fully expected that there were going to be a lot of us that were not going to be returning home. It was a very uncertain time that weighed heavily on everybody’s mind.
What inspired you to join the Marine Corps?
I always was up for a challenge. I still am, I guess. I hear some people out there say, well, there are people that don’t even know anybody that ever served and that really wasn’t my case. I’ve got my family on my dad’s side, they all served, World War II veterans. My dad was in Korea. My mom’s side goes all the way back to General George Washington’s army. It was just kind of the natural thing to do. I wanted to serve and to be challenged in particular with the Marine Corps. I don’t think I would have been a good Air Force guy.
Back to what was going on on the ground at that time, I think a lot people get confused between the more recent Iraq conflict with the conflict that went on with Saddam Hussein and Kuwait. He was, obviously, a terrible, terrible person. One of the worst leaders that you can imagine for a country. He mistreated his people terribly and that was contained mostly in Iraq at that point. Certainly, there were incursions into other countries through secretive operations and things resembling that.
Take us to that time when Saddam Hussein rolled into Kuwait, and we know of mutual people whose parents fought against it. They were part of the Kuwaiti government and they found themselves in very dire circumstances.
You’re so right, Gayle. Literally, it was overnight. People, not to get into the diplomatic process, but they were assured several days before by Saddam that he was not going to invade. He was using the excuse of the whole oil thing. It was just really a strange time. I’m sure that it was just an absolutely surreal experience. I’ve spoken with and have a number of Kuwaiti friends for whom it was just a surreal experience. Something that they just never could have imagined.
This gentleman had designs on making Kuwait, really officially the 19th province, and you and I have a mutual young friend who was born during the occupation, who has a distinction of having two birth certificates. One, it says he was born in Iraq. The other one says he was born in Kuwait. This was serious business. If we would have not assembled and led this coalition to liberate these people, I can’t even imagine what that country would be like today.
When Saddam and his forces went into Kuwait, what did they do to the people that were opposing them?
I think that’s probably one of the things that most people have no appreciation for. I hear things like the 100-hour war. It was just this lightning fast. The ground phase was, absolutely, but there was a long build up. Could you imagine being a Kuwaiti citizen under this daily occupation, the raping, the pillage, the murders? There were thousands and thousands of Kuwaitis who were slaughtered as a result of this occupation. I think that people have a tendency to gloss over and think, it was just a little encroachment and it was over with in the blink of an eye. That was really not the case.
It ended up being a much quicker victory than the media predicted and the naysayers predicted. I would say part of that was obviously the awesome force that we had, and I am one of the fiercest advocates of our military servicemen and women.
George H.W. Bush just recently passed away and there was a lot of reflection on his time as president. Do you have any thoughts on how his leadership was something that helped guarantee that it was a shorter American conflict to roll back Saddam Hussein and his forces from Kuwait and restore sovereignty to the Kuwaiti people?
Gayle, it was all about leadership. It was leadership from President Bush, Secretary James Baker, even Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, at the time. These gentlemen were competent. They went about this the right way, and they were committed. You even heard some of the old footage of President Bush saying we’re not going to allow this to be another Vietnam and he didn’t. I also have to always credit the generals in the field. If you think about it, Gayle, all of those senior leaders in the field, they were young officers in Vietnam, and I am firmly convinced, and nobody can tell me otherwise, I believe this, they were not going to allow us to go through what they went through the first time. They were going to go in, take care of business, and get out.
You made another point just a few minutes ago about a little bit of the confusion about what went on previously, and then the subsequent actions over in the Middle East after 9/11. I always ask somebody, “Well, tell me what the mission is?” A lot of people don’t realize it was to liberate Kuwait, period. It wasn’t to invade Iraq. It wasn’t to depose Saddam Hussein. The UN mandate clearly stated, and that’s what our mission was, was to liberate the people of Kuwait.
There was a coalition of many countries from different places around the world that joined with the United States to try and accomplish that mission of freeing Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s torturous treatment of the Kuwaiti government and people.
It sure was. In fact, it was really an unprecedented 34 countries from five different continents came together and at its bare essence, they did the right thing. They came together and did the right thing. I always like to point out to somebody, if you don’t think that’s amazing, take a look at today’s environment. You can’t even get 34 senators in the same room to agree on anything, let alone actually accomplish anything, Gayle. It was a phenomenal feat and that’s one of the things that this memorial is going to highlight are these positive aspects, like the coming together and doing the right thing. Regardless of your religion, regardless of your culture, your language, this was the country at its best, but also the world at its best.
When you returned home from this victory in Kuwait opposing the Iraqi forces, you were given the opportunity to participate in recognition of the successful mission. Maybe one of the most successful outcomes of any United States military intervention in American history.
What was your reaction to people asking you to participate in this type of prideful recognition of the effort and the success that you all made in Desert Shield/Desert Storm?
Gayle, I think I speak on behalf of probably 99 percent of the other veterans, I can certainly from my unit we felt this way. We really just wanted to go home. We felt like we did nothing more than what we were asked to do. We did our job. We were, quite frankly, very uncomfortable with the idea of being recognized. We didn’t think we were anything special. I remember we pitched such a fit over it that the commanding officer assembled us in formation, and he basically gave us a dressing down. He really let us have it. He said, “Look, you’re doing this parade. You’re doing it for the people. This is for the people. It is not for you.”
I didn’t understand what he meant until we got to the end of the parade, it was in this little town, and there is everybody out there, flags everywhere. He gets done with is remarks, we’re standing in front of the reviewing stand, and I can’t tell you one thing the man said until the very end when he said, “I dedicate this parade to the Vietnam veterans that never got one.” At that point, we all knew that it was worth it. That we were glad that we did that. I know you never really truly right the wrongs that occurred previously, but at least maybe that was the start of a healing process.
That gives me chills hearing about that. That is so beneficial, I think, not only to the Vietnam veterans who never heard, “Thanks,” but also were spit on and reviled and lots of lies were said about them. The idea that it was a healing moment, too. I would say the military was looked down on in some areas, obviously not with a lot of families that had people serving or had the history of military service, but I think there was as a shift, perhaps, at that moment, from the way the military had been treated previously, to more of an understanding of “Thank you for your service.”
Did you sense that as well?
Gayle, absolutely. That’s one of the things, the story that this memorial is going to get across, and, of course, it’s a challenging aspect of the memorial. How do you display this, as we have come to call it, the pivot? It’s a pivot in the public treatment. The general public, how they treat and view the military. It’s a reestablishment of that relationship. I’ll tell you, you mention a very frequently used term, “Thank you for your service,” that term did not exist prior to 1991. It’s a direct result of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It’s a legacy that continues. When I’m out with my wife, I really feel sorry for a lot of people. She’ll see anybody wearing a hat, “Thank you for your service.” That just didn’t happen.
It’s not even just those in uniform, but it’s those that serve, and it’s a continuing legacy. A lot of the young people kind of take the way that they’re treated for granted. I’ll tell you, people were not giving up first class seats on airplanes in the late 80s. They were not saying, “Thank you for your service,” or buying you a beer in the airport. It fundamentally changed that perception and treatment of the military and those that have served. I’m happy to say that that legacy continues, and I hope it always does.
Being a native Washingtonian, I’ve seen a lot of disputes about what should be placed on the Mall. The idea that it’s getting cluttered. That we shouldn’t be adding more things. Part of what makes the Mall beautiful is that there are not too many buildings or monuments on it. I’m curious, when you went through the permitting process, and I understand that you have received permission to actually build the memorial, did you encounter any of that opposition?
Gayle, we heard it. We did hear it from time to time, and we agree. We don’t want to have a proliferation of a lot of things out there to where it’s too busy. I just want to make just one thing clear for all of your listeners and your audience, is that we’re not technically on the Mall. We are on a parcel that is adjacent to what’s called The Reserve, the area where you can’t build, very close to the Lincoln Memorial as well as the Vietnam Memorial. We’re very respectful of that, but this particular site is not “on the mall,” because Congress established the rule back in 2003 to where there is no more building within The Reserve. We feel the gravity of that responsibility to do this right and to be respectful of the surroundings as well as the existing commemorative works. A lot of people say, “Well, it’s on the Mall.” It’s close to the Mall, but it’s not technically on the Mall.
That is very helpful. That’s such a good correction. I think that’s an important thing for people to realize.
As we look at the area that the memorial is going to be placed, as you mentioned, there is already a World War II Memorial. There is a Vietnam Veterans Memorial. There is the Korean War Memorial. There is the Lincoln War Memorial. When you look at the artistry and the message that these current memorials send out, thinking about the World War II Memorial, the vision of it is a round image with wreaths on it. To me, it reminds me a lot of sort of a Roman idea consistent with the rest of a lot of the government buildings around the National Mall.
When we look at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it’s a very different visual that people encounter. It’s this black wall. If people haven’t gone to see it, you should absolutely go to see it. It’s a very dark wall with the names of the casualties engraved on the wall and there are very iconic photos of survivors and relatives of those etched in the wall, putting their hands up against the names of their loved ones or their comrades in arms.
I’m curious, could you describe for us, what the National Desert Storm and Desert Shield War Memorial will look like and what is the meaning that should be conveyed by the artistry behind the design?
That’s a great question. It’s a difficult question, because right now we’re in the throes of working through the design process. I’ll just say, and give our team a tremendous amount of credit, we have some wonderful professionals, and I’m talking 30-year professionals in the landscape architecture world as well as the architecture world. We brought some artists in for some input.
As I mentioned earlier, Gayle, this memorial is going to be unique in that although remembering the fallen is of utmost importance, it’s not going to be a place of mourning like Vietnam. We have these positive messages to convey. On a personal note, I’ve got a cousin whose name is on the Vietnam Memorial. You go there and it’s not what I would say is a real uplifting experience other than you can say, “Well, there is 58,000 names on here. Thank goodness there aren’t 60,000 or more.”
Whereas ours, the challenge is being able to tell that story, the unity of the coalition coming together, the liberation aspect. This was all about liberation. Our location is very close to Lincoln. We think there is some symbolism with the greatest liberator in our country’s history. This was about liberating Kuwait. It ties in very, very well.
We’re working through those aspects, and I’m not an expert with neoclassical or the Greek revival, any of that, but I can tell you I think it’s something people are going to outwardly appreciate and our hope is that they’ll outwardly appreciate it and be wowed by it and want to come in and learn the story. They’re going to absorb the story. We’re building this not just for today or next year, but we’re looking at how are people going to connect with this and learn the story, 50 and 100 years from now.
That is excellent. If people want to find out more about your effort and donate to the effort, I assume that this is privately funded; is that correct?
It’s 100 % privately funded. We’re taking no federal funds for it. You’re absolutely correct.
If people want to learn about how to contribute or find out more information about the proposed memorial or find out information about you, where can they go?
They can go to ndswm.org. We also have a very active Facebook and social media presence, and we’d love to hear from you all.
Scott, thank you so much for joining us.
Thanks so much for having me, Gayle, and thanks so much for your interest and support for the memorial and keep up your great work.
This is Gayle Trotter. Like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter or Instagram, subscribe to my YouTube station, support this podcast on Patreon. I also want to thank Trio Caliente for the music. This is Gayle Trotter, Right in DC.