As reports came in, many spirits were dampened *Elation of hopes for peace quickly fade for Maryland parents of soldiers in the gulf. PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN


Elation among families of soldiers in the gulf war over reports of a peace proposal was dampened today almost as soon as more news could flicker across their TV screens.

"The first instinct is hooray, it's over, they're coming home," said Cecelia Hoehn of Rosedale, whose son was called to active duty from the Marine reserves. But Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's peace offer came with conditions that the United States rejected. And, she realized, "we haven't anything to celebrate yet."

Hoehn said she wanted a lasting peace, rather than a partial one on Saddam's terms that might lead to renewed warfare in the Middle East. She wants her son home, she said, but "I would rather see him stay over there and finish the job he's been told to do than to come home and have to go back again."

Hoehn said she would trust President Bush to decide when that job is done.

Phyllis Edwards of Overlea was hoping Bush would accept the deal so that her two sons in the gulf -- one an Army warrant officer, the other an Air Force master sergeant -- could come home. "I want to get my sons home. I just don't want to see anymore bloodshed. We've had quite enough," she said. "I'm kind of skeptical right now. I sure hope it's true."

Edwards decided to spend today working on a project at her church, Overlea United Methodist, hanging peace and support pictures around the interior of the sanctuary. She had nearly completed the project a few hours before the war broke out Jan. 16, hoping somehow that if she could post pictures all around the church that day a war wouldn't start.

The hope of peace sent her back to finish the task.

"If he [Saddam] is willing to stop the war, I'm willing to stop," she said.

But for many, the news is too confusing to know what to think. "It's really hard to say anything right now," said Ronald Raab Sr. of Overlea, whose son serves with an activated National Guard military police unit. "You get one view on top of another, and they're all conflicting."

Raab's wife, Mary, said her emotions took her from a feeling of "Christmas, New Year's Eve, everything combined" to the conclusion that Saddam's peace offer amounted to little more than "head games."

The attached conditions suggested that Saddam was "stalling for time" in his offer to pull out of Kuwait, she said, adding that she approved at this point of Bush rejecting it. "You don't buy a pair of shoes without trying them on," she explained. "So why should he [Bush] buy that this man is going to do this without seeing some action?"

Raab planned to start her shift as a dispatcher with the city police today, even though "my heart's not there," she said. A television in the lunch room keeps the office up to date on war news. But Raab won't watch it. "It's too much," she said.

Despite Bush's dismissal of the peace offer as a "cruel hoax," Raab and other parents still grasp at it for hope of a settlement later.

Carole Yingling of Eldersburg sees today's proposal as just an opening gambit, at a price that will eventually come down to terms that the United States might accept. "You look at it this way. He's got to start somewhere," she said.

Louise Lerario of Damascus, in Montgomery County, has suspended her plans today to write a letter to her son, a captain with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

"I can't write now," she said. "I keep my eyes and ears glued to the various televisions," as she passes from one room of her house to the next.

The news doesn't seem to live up to the initial joy she felt. "As hour by hour goes by, I'm not so optimistic," she said.

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