As Spc. Joel Maxwell of Baltimore packed his gear two weeks ago to prepare for his flight to the Persian Gulf, he reassured his family.
"He kept saying he would be safe because he was nothing but a mechanic," Specialist Maxwell's wife, Peggy, said yesterday. "I kept saying anything could happen."
She was right.
Monday evening, Specialist Maxwell, his assurance long gone, called his sister, Dorothy Jackson. Earlier that day, barely 20 minutes after he left his makeshift barracks near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the building was destroyed by Iraq's most lethal Scud missile attack in the gulf. At least 28 U.S. soldiers were killed.
"He said he was really shaken up," Mrs. Jackson said. "All his belongings were destroyed, and a lot of his friends were hurt. He said he didn't know how many were dead."
Among the 98 Americans injured was David Jennings of Cumberland, who was wounded but not seriously.
"They called me...and said that he was wounded" but alive, his wife, Donna, said. "I was so relieved....It's been a very long 24 hours.
The missile struck around 8:30 p.m. Mrs. Jackson said her brother told her that normally, many of the men would have been outside playing volleyball. But that night, an unusual number of them had decided to go to bed early. Specialist Maxwell might have been among them, but 20 minutes before the attack, a friend had come looking for him and the two decided to go for a walk.
Mrs. Jackson said her brother was in a nearby building when he heard the explosion.
A native of Costa Rica and the father of three children, Specialist Maxwell, 36, has been in the Army Reserves for several years and has done tours of duty in Turkey and Greece. Mrs. Maxwell said he had volunteered to go to the gulf.
Her husband, she said, did not fit the profile of a soldier. Even as a security guard -- his normal job -- he chafed when his employer began insisting that he carry a gun.
"He joined the reserves for the money, to support his family," Mrs. Maxwell said.