To the Editor,
After reading John Howell’s This Side Up column last week, in which he described having breakfast with his daughter in Jackson, Wyoming, and meeting someone at the next table …
To the Editor,
After reading John Howell’s This Side Up column last week, in which he described having breakfast with his daughter in Jackson, Wyoming, and meeting someone at the next table who was from Warwick, I was reminded of an event from years ago that convinced me the world—not just Rhode Island—is very small indeed.
Background: As a National Guardsman back in 1990 and working at Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Connecticut, I was mobilized for the Persian Gulf War. I had a very good friend at Sikorsky who was the personal assistant to the president of the corporation and traveled with him frequently to Europe.
By early 1991, I was in Saudi Arabia just south of the Iraqi border getting ready to accompany the First Infantry Division (The Big Red One) into Iraq to meet the vaunted Iraqi Republican Guard Tank Corps. Another battalion was going to replace mine in northern Saudi Arabia when we crossed into Iraq. As my battalion‘s operations officer, I figuring we would capture hundred or thousands of Iraqi prisoners; thus, I wanted to build a POW camp near the border so my battalion could send prisoners back quickly and move on north with the fighting.
I located an engineer battalion a few miles away in northern Saudi Arabia and got them to build the POW camp for me. Two young lieutenants were assigned to oversee the construction and I got to know them fairly well during the week or so it took to construct the camp. Shortly after the camp was finished, my battalion moved north when the ground war began. (Sure enough, we sent back thousands of POWs.)
Fast forward: When I got back from the war in the summer of 1991, I met my Sikorsky friend for a drink. He related to me that he had been at an airport bar at Orly Airport in Paris awaiting a flight back to the U.S. a few weeks after the war was over. Two young guys came in and sat at the bar next to him. They struck up a conversation and told my friend that they were soldiers on their way back to the states from Saudi Arabia. My friend told them that he had a friend who had been in Saudi Arabia and was still in Iraq with the Army. With over a quarter million U.S. military in the Middle East for the war, my friend doubted they had come across me. Much to his astonishment, when he mentioned my name, one of the young officers exclaimed, “You mean Major Barham? We built a POW camp for him.”
Who would have thought? That 6,000 miles from Saudi Arabia and almost 4,000 miles from Rhode Island, and in the middle of a huge European city, my friend would randomly run into a couple of people who knew me?
Yeah! It’s not just Rhode Island that is small, the whole world is.
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