STORIES FROM THE BRINK: MARYLANDERS WAIT AND WORRY

THE BALTIMORE EVENING SUN

As today began throughout Baltimore and Maryland, people perfected the art of waiting.

The midnight deadline set by the United Nations for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait came and went with no immediate reaction from Iraq or the United States. Yet people felt compelled to watch the clock, to mark the hour's passing.

People who usually were asleep by midnight, who had trouble staying awake to see the ball drop on New Year's Eve, sat watching Cable News Network or one of the major television networks, observing a joyless countdown.

These are scenes from the brink of what has been called the first "get ready-get set-go -- war":

* With the television on in the background of her Glen Burnie home, Bonnie Raab spent the evening writing a love letter to her husband, Ronald Raab Jr., a specialist in the National Guard's 290th Battalion.

It was the same kind of letter she always writes, a sweet, matter-of-fact love letter about day-to-day life, what she ate for dinner, how her work was at the nursing home.

"It makes me feel closer to him," she said. She married him Dec. 1, days before he was deployed to Saudi Arabia.

Her husband has written to her almost every day, telling her about the desert weather and how the fine sand gets into everything. He asks about her health and their first child, due in May.

"I don't know what kind of letters I'll be getting now, or how many," she said. "I'm wondering right now where they are, what they're doing."

* Eighth-grader Lisa Baugher walked out of MacArthur Middle School at Fort Meade between classes yesterday to protest the use of military force in the Persian Gulf.

"A lot of parents think kids don't care about the war," said Lisa, 13. "That's not true. I'm scared. I'm afraid they'll take over this country. I don't know if it'll really happen. I just know I don't want anyone to die."

Lisa and her classmates planned the walkout Monday. One-third of MacArthur's students are the children of enlisted men or women.

School officials said they would discipline those who left and blocked the doors.

Fifteen minutes after the scheduled 10:30 a.m. walkout, Lisa left the school and crossed a parking lot to talk to a reporter. She was alone.

She could receive a five-day suspension.

"I'm not scared because my mom knows," Lisa said. "I told her I was going to do this. I don't want there to be a war."

* As an organist played "Come Home," the Rev. Edwin A. Ankeny's tears glistened in the light that filtered through stained glass windows at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church.

An 11th-hour prayer vigil, prompted by parishioner Sharon Kitchen, was held yesterday in the 119-year-old Gothic church. Kitchen and Ankeny have sons in the gulf.

"At this point, it's in [God's] hands and I have to let it go," Ankeny said. "It's an awesome feeling to know that the 17th day of August may have been the last time I saw my son."

Jerry Ankeny, 25, is a West Point graduate stationed near the prospective combat zone. He commands 15 men and four M-1 tanks.

He last called on Christmas Eve. His father was visiting a parishioner in a hospital and missed the call. Jerry Ankeny was to be married this weekend. His father is praying for his safety.

"I suppose it would be a shock to some people, but I get to the point where I yell at God," Ankeny said. "Then there is just sort of a feeling of inner satisfaction that God is in control. I feel anger, fear. There are tears. Sometimes I walk and pace. I listen to classical music and sometimes I have to get in the car and drive, alone."

Said Kitchen: "It seems the best place to be now is at church. This is like you're sitting on death row, waiting for a reprieve."

* "Maybe it'll just be better if it finally happens and I don't have to worry about it," sighed Donna Jones, of Westminster.

She and her husband, Roosevelt, who served 24 years in the Army and Air Force, can deal with war. But waiting for it is hard because their 25-year-old son, Stephen, is stationed with the Army in Saudi Arabia.

"We had a lot of friends who went to Vietnam," she said, "and we had a lot of friends who didn't come back." She still wears a POW bracelet.

"All you can do about it is pray," she said. "You say your prayers, ask God to intervene and if he doesn't, you say, 'Your will be done.' And hope that you can handle it."

* At Howard and Dolphin streets, a saxophone played and anti-war protesters sang "Precious Lord," the favorite song of the slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

More than 200 people had gathered yesterday in front of the 5th Regiment Armory on North Howard Street to rally against a war they called unjust and to remind spectators that Jan. 15 was more than a deadline. They had marched from Union Baptist Church on Druid Hill Avenue.

"This is a birthday rally for Dr. King," the Rev. Daki Napata, a community activist, said hoarsely. King would have been 62 yesterday.

Henry A. Silva, national vice president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which King established in 1957, said before the rally, "It's a sad day, a sad day that we have to [consider] going to war . . . on Dr. King's birthday."

* In Westminster, Donald Bantner got ready for bed at 7 p.m. and set his alarm so he would awaken just before midnight to turn on CNN.

Donald and Marie Bantner's son, Michael, was activated out of ROTC in September and sent to Saudi Arabia. When they talked to him last Thursday, Michael warned them it might be a long time before they hear from him again.

"There's not going to be anything," Bantner said. "I guess I'm waiting for nothing to happen."

* Howard County employees set aside the traditional separation of church and state to gather in a hastily assembled prayer meeting in the County Council chambers.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker assembled the meeting with the help of Rabbi Martin Siegel of the Columbia Jewish Congregation. About 150 people attended to support U.S. military personnel and hopes of peace in the Middle East.

Siegel offered a prayer. The Rev. Arthur Lillycrop, Howard County General Hospital's chaplain, led a litany. A guitarist led the singing of "Peace is Flowing Like a River," "America the Beautiful" and "God Bless America."

David White, the school budget officer, wore a small sign on his lapel that read "No Blood for Oil" and bore the White House phone number.

"I have a concern that is not spiritual so much as it is of standing by one's convictions," said White. "It's not too late, and I would urge all of you to take the time to call the White House and let your voices be heard."

* "I know he's going to be fine," Nancy Spaugh said of her son, Gerald Rosier, an anti-tank gunner with the 82nd Airborne Division in Saudi Arabia. That was the plucky Nancy talking.

The anxious Nancy's voice thickened with emotion as she admitted, "I'm just uptight, waiting to see what's going to happen."

Spaugh was planning to watch television and stay in touch with members of a support group of soldiers' relatives to boost their morale.

"Your son is going to come home fine," she tells them. "That's what you have to think."

Her own son knows war. He spent his 20th birthday and Christmas in Panama in 1989 during the invasion ordered by President Bush to oust Gen. Manuel Noriega, and passed his 21st birthday and last Christmas in Saudi Arabia.

"I guess being in Panama, he has handled it a little bit better. But he's afraid. They're still afraid of the chemical warfare," Spaugh said. "Deep down inside you can hear a little fear in their voices, in their letters. But they believe in what they're doing."

* In an old gym at Aberdeen Proving Ground yesterday, men and women set to arrive in Saudi Arabia this weekend took on blood tests, physicals and records checks and the bravado of front-line soldiers.

Most were computer technicians, aircraft mechanics, communications specialists and other civilians who work for the Army or defense contractors.

None would admit inner fears.

"We need to get things under control," said Samuel Dowell, 35, an aircraft mechanic from Fort Worth, Texas. "We need to teach him a lesson," he said of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

* Talk of war interrupted yesterday's session of the General Assembly, one of the most insular bodies in the state. During the opening prayer, a pastor asked for wisdom for the nation's leaders. Del. James E. Proctor Jr., D-Prince George's, delivering the annual Martin Luther King Jr. address, noted the irony of a war breaking out on a day that commemorated a man devoted to non-violence.

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