By Ray Starmann
On this Memorial Day, let us remember the ultimate sacrifices made by Sergeant Kenneth Gentry, Sergeant Edwin Kutz and Private First Class Charles Walker during the Gulf War in 1991.
The deaths of Gentry, Kutz and Walker and, in fact, the deaths of the other 294 Allied personnel in Operation Desert Storm, have been eclipsed my much longer wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
The Gulf War, has for the most part been forgotten; a late 20th Century copy of the late 19th Century Spanish-American War, where a superbly motivated US force laid waste to a corrupt Spanish Army from the Old World and then returned as heroes, soon to be forgotten as the horrors of the trenches in World War I super-ceded anything Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders had done on San Juan Hill.
The deaths of Gentry, Kutz and Walker represent the deaths of all 1.3 million Americans who have given their lives from Lexington and Concord to Gettysburg to Fallujah.
Gentry, Kutz and Walker represented the best of America: patriotic, hard-working, heroic and willing to risk their lives to protect the great, gluttonous masses, who on Memorial Day, are seemingly more interested in their gas grills, power boats and 12 packs than the men and women who gave their lives for this country.
Private First Class Charles Walker, grew up in Jonesboro, Georgia. Like many teens in the 1980’s, he was motivated by an inspirational President, intent on rebuilding America, to join the military and serve his country. Walker was a cavalry scout, or in Army parlance, a 19 Delta. He was assigned to B Troop, of the 4th Squadron, in the famous 7th Cavalry. Like many of his comrades at that time, Walker thought his unit would never deploy anywhere farther than Graf or Hohenfels in Northern Bavaria. In December of 1990, 4-7 CAV was sent to Saudi Arabia, as part of the goliath 250,000 man VII Corps that President Bush, Dick Cheney and Norman Schwarzkopf would one day utilize to turn the lights permanently out on the Republican Guard.
While on a reconnaissance of the Iraqi Border on February 1, 1991, Charles Walker was shot in the heart. Medics worked on him, giving him CPR, until the Medevac chopper arrived. A short time later, while flying over the vast Ad-Dahna Desert, Private First Class Charles Walker died.
He was 19 years old.
Three weeks later, 4-7 CAV would suffer more casualties…
February 26, 1991, was the culminating day of the Persian Gulf War. It was on this gray, blustery, drizzling, sandstorm filled span of 24 hours that the US VII Corps put the hammer down on Saddam’s elite, marauding, fanatical troops known as the Republican Guard.
Leading the charge for the vaunted 3rd Armored Division of World War II fame was the 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry, which on the afternoon of February 26th, was guarding the right or southern flank of the Mighty Spearhead Division, while maintaining contact with the US 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, one kilometer to its south.
By 3 P.M. with the weather worsening, division air assets were grounded, meaning the 7th Cav, minus any heavy armor, would be moving nearly blind towards what was an eventual showdown with the Iraqi Tawakalna Division.
That showdown soon arrived. Just minutes later, and close enough for the 7th Cav to spit at through visibility down to 300 meters, the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, in which, H.R. McMaster commanded E Troop, was in contact with the Tawakalna, in what history would soon dub, the Battle of 73 Easting.
73 Easting was the kick off to a 12 hour, 50 mile long battle between the US VII Corps, the Iraqi Republican Guard and the Regular Iraqi Army.
At 3:35 P.M., at grid 7310, Sergeant Ronald Jones from A Troop, 4-7 CAV, reported “I’ve got crunchies up front”, meaning dismounted infantry manning RPK-74 machine guns and carrying RPG-7’s and Sagger anti-tank missiles. Soon BMP-2’s and T-72’s were spotted.
Stumbling through the blinding shamal, 4-7 CAV had found the 9th Armored Brigade of the Tawakalna, or, in actuality, the Tawakalna had found them. Once again, the 7th Cavalry had found itself caught in an ambush.
For the next 90 minutes, the 7th Cavalry was outnumbered and alone, fighting in what historians now call the Battle of Phase Line Bullet.
During the fighting, Sergeant Kenneth Gentry, from Ringgold, Virginia, riding in the Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle, A-24, was mortally wounded when a US M1A1 moving up to the fighting mistakenly identified Gentry’s Bradley as an enemy vehicle. Gentry was fatally wounded in the upper thighs.
After seeing A-24 hit, Command Sergeant Major Ronald Sneed ordered his Bradley forward and while under heavy fire carried a seriously wounded Sergeant First Class Raymond Egan and the dying Sergeant Gentry to his vehicle. Sneed was a living legend, who had served five tours in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade. On the squadron net, Sneed reported, “I’m with one, they’re working on him.” After thirty seconds of static, Sneed was back on the net. “He’s gone.” Only two hours before, Gentry had passed Sneed; a mouth full of coffee grounds, smiling, and giving him a friendly wave.
Highly decorated, Sneed had seen more combat than most men in the US Army in any war. Yet, months after Gentry’s death, he couldn’t say the words Sergeant Gentry without breaking down in tears.
While re-deploying during the battle, Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicle, A-22 was hit by another M1A1 sabot round, either from the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Armored Division or from 2nd ACR.
Sergeant Edwin B. Kutz of Kutztown, Pennsylvania, was killed instantly. Kutz, was a superb soldier. He was a highly competent non-commissioned officer, a confident cavalry scout and he usually had the highest score during gunnery rotations. He was the kind of soldier who would have become a sergeant-major, had his life not been cut short on a nameless speck of desert.
As night fell, and the 3rd Armored Division’s heavy armor took over the fight, 4-7 CAV took stock of its losses. In a war, that the public believed was an antiseptic video game, two men were dead and another 12 seriously wounded by enemy and friendly fire. Three Bradleys were out of commission and every Bradley in A Troop and some in B Troop had been hit by either direct or indirect fire.
Now, 27 years later, one can only wonder what Charles Walker, Kenneth Gentry and Edwin Kutz would and could have done, had they not been killed in action.
That is indeed the most melancholy mystery of all.
On this Memorial Day, take a moment and remember Sergeants Gentry and Kutz, PFC Walker and the 1.3 million Americans who died for their country and whose deaths were so eloquently eulogized by General MacArthur.
I do not know the dignity of their birth, but I do know the glory of their death. They died unquestioning, uncomplaining, with faith in their hearts, and on their lips the hope that we would go on to victory. Always, for them: Duty, Honor, Country; always their blood and sweat and tears, as we sought the way and the light and the truth.
In their youth and strength, their love and loyalty, they gave all that mortality can give.