As time began to pass, I looked back on the Gulf War and tried to remember some things that happened and realized I had better write it down, or I might forget…

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Operation Desert Storm – Olivia’s Story

Posted By Olivia Gonzalez-Downs, proud Mother-in-Law of Michael D. Daniels, KIA in Operation Desert Storm

My son-in-law, Michael David Daniels, was one of the soldiers killed in Operation Desert Storm. He died with his Pilot, Hal Hooper Reichle when their OH-58 Kiowa Scout helicopter crashed while on a reconnaissance mission in the Republic of Iraq on Wednesday, February 20, 1991. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life. Through our loss of Michael, our family has become more acutely aware of the preciousness of life and how important it is to cherish the time we have with our loved ones. This is my story of what happened to us when Saddam Hussein gave his army the order to invade Kuwait.
August, 1990
It was a good feeling to know that I had successfully raised three children to adulthood. My oldest daughter, Lisa was 21 and had married her Fiancée, Wayne on New Year’s Day, 1990. My youngest child, Patrick had just turned 18. Lisa, Wayne and Patrick were living with me and my husband Clarence in Rapid City, South Dakota. My second child, my daughter Misty was 19 and had just married her high school sweetheart, Michael on April 24, 1990.
Misty was living with Michael in Savannah, Georgia. He had joined the Army after they both graduated from Leavenworth High School in Leavenworth, Kansas. He was assigned to Hunter Army Air Field, Georgia, where he worked as an Aero Scout Observer for A Company, 1/24th Aviation Regiment. His job was to help sight targets for the Apache attack helicopter, should our Armed Forces ever become involved in war. When he told me about the job he had chosen, I looked questioningly at him, asking, “That’s a dangerous job, isn’t it?” “Yes,” he answered. “If the enemy ever spots us, we’d have about seven seconds to live.” His statement was made matter-of-factly.
Misty and Michael had been together for four years. As high school sweethearts, they had shared homecoming, high school prom and other dances, and finally, high school graduation. Their marriage was something they had both hoped and planned for and I knew they were both ecstatically happy to finally be married. I had received a letter from Misty, telling me that she and Michael had saved money for a belated honeymoon, and would be taking a vacation ocean liner cruise to the Bahamas around the first part of August. I expected a postcard from them anytime. When I received the call from Misty, she was crying. She told me that on the second day of their honeymoon, Michael had received a call from his unit, telling him that his leave was officially canceled, and that he would have to cut his honeymoon short and return to Hunter Army Air Field. Michael was being deployed. I had been keeping up with the latest news, and knew that the trouble in the Middle East was probably the reason for the deployment. The country of Iraq had taken over the small country of Kuwait. As always, the United States was called upon for assistance. I repeatedly called Misty once she and Mike were back in Georgia. His departure date was uncertain from one day to another and the anxiety was almost unbearable. The date he was to have already left, I called and Misty informed me, “He’s still here. Do you want to talk to him?” I held the phone tightly as I assured Michael, “I want you to know that I will always be worried about you while you’re gone. Take care of yourself and come home safely.” “And,” I added, “I want you to know that I love you,” I could tell he was smiling. “I love you too,” he replied. On the 29th of August, 1990, my son-in-law left for Saudi Arabia.
By the middle of September, Misty had informed me that Michael could be gone for up to a year. She wanted to come home. On September 16, 1990, Lisa, Wayne and I drove from Rapid City, South Dakota to Savannah, Georgia to bring Misty home to wait until Michael returned. I thought she would be okay waiting with me. But every time she retreated to her room and I went to check on her, she would be lying on her bed crying. She was miserable without her husband.
Misty decided to go to Germany where Michael’s father, Army Master Sergeant Craig Daniels had been assigned. The family had been there for over a year and had invited Misty to come and live with them while she waited for Michael’s return. Also, Misty told me that if Michael had a chance to go on “R&R” (rest and relaxation), he would be able to meet her in Germany. Just the thought of being in Germany, closer to Michael, was very comforting to her. She left on December 3, 1990.
My family was afraid. Michel had been in Saudi Arabia since August – a little more than three months. Now, we also had my older brother Mario’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Angela getting ready to go. She had joined the Army in March of 1990, and by the third of December she was also on her way to Saudi Arabia.
The United States joined with other countries to form a United Nations Coalition to order Iraq out of Kuwait. The leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, had authorized his army to continue their occupation of Kuwait and reports from undercover resistance members told of plundering, rape, torture and murder. The Iraqi’s were acting upon the orders of a madman. A deadline for their withdrawal from Kuwait was set by the UN coalition for Tuesday, January 15, 1991. With the UN deadline rapidly approaching, we knew war was imminent.
Monday, January 14, 1991
My family was tormented by the thought of war starting with Michael and Angela in Saudi Arabia. We feared the worst could happen. My mother is of what most Americans refer to as “Sioux Indian” decent. Our people call ourselves “Lakota”. Our belief in the powers of the Great Spirit has always been strong. We decided to have a traditional Lakota prayer vigil, to pray for our loved ones going to war. The ceremony was held outside the Indian community of Wanblee, South Dakota at 6:30 in the evening. Before the holy ceremony is conducted by our people, a purification ceremony precedes the prayer in ceremony. The men in the group gathered wood to start the fire, to heat the rocks for the sweat lodge. As the fire began to rage, we stood and watched. From the middle of the fire, a red glow began to rise…..a cylinder-shaped red glow slowly rose from the center of the fire straight up into the sky as far as we could see. We had never seen anything like it. The Medicine Man told us it was a sign from the Great Spirit. We never knew what the sign meant, until later. The Medicine Man also told us that although Angela was unaware of our ceremony to pray for her, she would see a sign in the desert, to assure her she was being watched over. The prayer ceremony lasted until 11:00pm on our way back to Rapid City, we were all quiet. We had placed our faith in the Great Spirit that everything would be all right.
Wednesday, January 16, 1991
4:30PM MST
I was working at my desk, when I heard President Bush’s voice on the radio: “Ladies and Gentlemen…..the liberation of Kuwait has begun.” My heart began to pound rapidly. I ran to the employee break room where a couple of my co-workers were already watching CNN’s broadcast. UN Coalition Armed Forces had begun bombing the capital of Baghdad, Iraq. America was at war.
Although I had trouble concentrating, I finished my shift at work and went home. Troubled, I tossed and turned, unable to sleep. At about 1:00 in the morning, the phone rang. It was Misty calling from Germany. I could hear the alarm in her voice. “Mom!” she cried. “The war has started!” At 4:30 our time in Rapid City when the bombing had begun, it was 12:30am in Germany, and Misty and Mike’s family had been asleep, unaware that the war had begun. When Misty woke up that morning, she had turned on the television and became frightened to see the caption “America at War.” I reassured her, “Don’t worry, honey. So far, we are doing great.” I updated her on the broadcasts I had watched the previous evening, with our fighter pilots returning from their sorties, and that, so far, the Iraqi’s did not even seem to be responding. She seemed somewhat comforted, and we hung up promising to keep in close touch.
The bombing continued, 24 hours a day, for a month. Still, Saddam Hussein stubbornly refused to withdraw his troops from Kuwait. Americans everywhere discussed the war. The General of the United States Army publicly proclaimed that a ground war was unavoidable. I had been diligently writing to Michael and Angela, and I worried constantly about their safety. Michael wrote back steadily, always assuring me that he was okay; that he was proud to be doing his part for America, and that he couldn’t wait to get back home to his life with Misty. The fact that he was deeply in love with my daughter was evident and I felt grateful that my daughter had found such a great love. I was constantly stressed out, worrying about Michael and Angela’s safety as well as all our other troops who were in the Middle East in the name of world freedom. My family and I survived only through prayer. The fate of the world was in God’s hands.
During this time, Angela had helped lay telephone lines in the Saudi desert, and she was able to call home. Though eagle sightings in the desert are not typical, she told her father that she had seen an eagle circling overhead in the desert. This was our assurance and her “sign” that the Medicine Man had predicted….the Great Spirit was watching over her.
Thursday, February 21, 1991
Approximately 4:50PM
I was in the doctor’s exam room at the Sioux San Indian Hospital, when I heard my name over the intercom – “Olivia Felder, please call the switchboard.” I told Dr. Larson,
“They just paged me to call the switchboard.” He dialed the number for me. The hospital operator told me, “You have to call home right away for an emergency message!” I dialed my house – no answer. I dialed my mom and dad’s house, and the phones connected. I could hear my mother moaning as she punched in numbers, unaware that I was on the line. My mother had three previous heart attacks and my first thought was that she was having another one. “Mom!” I called to her, “What’s wrong!!??” When she heard me she began to sob, “Oh, my God! It’s Michael, Misty’s husband! He’s been killed! She wants you to call her in Germany right away!” I hung up the phone and the impact of the message hit me. I burst into tears and told the doctor that I had to leave, and why. I ran out through the waiting room, vaguely aware that people were turning to look at me, curiously. As I ran out into the hospital parking lot, my husband Clarence jumped out of the car asking, “What happened? What’s wrong?” I told him, “Mom just called me. Michael got killed. I have to call Misty right away!” All the way across town, I moaned and cried, not believing that this could be real.
When Misty answered the phone, I said “Hi, Baby.” My daughter burst into tears. “Oh, Mom,” she cried. “My baby, I’m so sorry,” I told her over and over again. I asked her what happened and she explained that she and Michael’s family were watching the evening news and heard that an OH-58 helicopter had crashed with two American soldiers on board. She tried not to worry and had already been in bed for the evening when the doorbell rang at about 1:00 in the morning. She watched through the glass window in the hallway as her mother and father-in-law were passing by her room, on their way to answer the door. When Misty opened the door, her father-in-law looked at her wide-eyed and said, “Misty, you have to come downstairs with us.” His arms were around his wife’s shoulders and she was crying. Two soldiers in uniform had come knocking at their door. They informed her that Michael’s helicopter had crashed near the Saudi-Iraqi border, killing both Michael and his pilot, Hal Reichle. I told Misty I had just that morning mailed a letter to Michael with a copy of the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. “Here are a couple of prayers that I rely on to give me strength,” I had written. “Carry them with you and maybe they’ll help you, too.” He would never receive my letter. My heart ached as I thought about the letter I had just received from Michael. “I guess you could say I’m scared,” he had written, “but I know I’ll be fine. There’s nothing here that could stop me from seeing Misty again.” I asked to speak to Michael’s mother, Dolly. “Olivia,” she sobbed, “he was a good boy! And he was so-o-o brave!” We cried together for the precious young man we loved, who we would never again see, walking, talking, laughing, and being with us. I told Dolly, “I didn’t’ give birth to him, but he was my son, too. He called me ‘Mom’, too.”
Friday morning, February 22, 1991
Misty and Michael’s parents decided, together, that Michael would be buried at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. This was where Michael’s father had been stationed in the Army for six years and where I had been assigned during my four-year stint in the Army as well; it was where Misty and Michael had attended school since junior high, met, fell in love, and graduated from high school together. Michael’s grandmother, Madonna Cook, still lived there. Family members began to plan for the funeral.
I needed to figure out my finances, so that I could make the trip to Kansas. My family helped me to arrange for deferments on my rent and car payment. One problem still worried me. I had made numerous telephone calls to Germany and various family members as we gave each other moral support through the war. My phone bill of $112 needed to be paid before I could make the trip, or I would lose my phone service. When I went to my place of employment to get an advance on my paycheck, along with the advance I received two envelopes containing sympathy cards from my co-workers. Inside one of the envelopes, there was also some money donated by my fellow employees. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I counted the money and it totaled the exact amount of $112! My sister Maggie told me, “God is taking care of you.”
Friday evening, February 22, 1991
Misty called and told me that the military had made arrangements for them to be flown back from Germany on a MAC (military aircraft) flight, which was to leave at 4:00am (Germany time) the following morning, Saturday, February 23. They were eight hours ahead of our time in Rapid City. At 8:00am Saturday morning, she called me to tell me that their flight was delayed due to “no space available.” They would try again the next morning, Sunday, the 24th, again at 4:00am. Meanwhile, Misty, Michael’s parents Craig and Dolly, and his little sister Melisa went that evening to the Chapel in Vilseck, Germany, where they had attended Catholic mass together throughout the time they awaited the end of the war. The members of the parish had submitted names of their loved ones who were serving in the Gulf, and those names had been mounted on large wooden plaques in the shape of a Shield (Operation Desert Shield) and hung on the wall of the Chapel. Misty was going to take a picture of the plaque with Michael’s name on it. As she made her way out of the pew, somehow the kneeler fell and hit her on the ankle. That night as she bathed, she noticed the reddened area where the kneeler had hit her ankle. She said she had to get out of the bathtub and show it to Michael’s family to make sure she wasn’t just seeing things. The unmistakable shape of a cross with “Mary” clearly imprinted across it was verified by the family.
Misty called me repeatedly to keep me posted on the progress of their return back to the states. In one of her calls, she told me that she and Michael’s family were reviewing some of the mail they received from Michael in the past couple of months. “I really believe that it was Michael’s time to go,” she told me. She explained that Michael had sent her a poem in October. He called her and told her, “I had a strange dream last night, so I wrote you a poem and I’m sending it to you. I hope you like it.” Misty promised to let me read the poem when we met up in Leavenworth.
The next morning, Sunday, February 24th, the family tried again to get a flight out of Germany. Again, they were delayed. Finally, on their third day of trying, they were on their way. It was Monday, February 25, 1991. They were to fly to St. Louis, Missouri, where a military car and driver would be waiting to drive them to Leavenworth. Their anticipated arrival time in Leavenworth was 12:00 midnight Monday, or 1:00am Tuesday morning. I set my departure time for the eleven-hour drive for Tuesday morning.
Early am, Wednesday, February 27, 1991
As we crossed the bridge over the Missouri River into Leavenworth, Kansas, it was 1:00 in the morning. I noticed vaguely that the town hadn’t changed much since we moved away almost a year ago. We went directly to Michael’s grandmother’s house, where Misty and the family would be waiting. When we arrived, they greeted us at the door. I wrapped my arms around my young daughter and cried with her. Dolly, Craig and Madonna joined us. Together, we huddled with our arms around each other, as we mourned our loss of Michael.
Later, Craig asked me what time we had arrived in town. I told him we crossed the bridge at 1:00. Astounded, he told me, “I was sound asleep, when something woke me up. It was right at 1:00. Something made me get up and ask Misty, ‘Where’s your mother?!’ She should have been here by now!” Then, he looked out the window and we were walking up the steps in front of the house.
We stayed up, talking, until about 3:00am, then everyone made their way to where they would be sleeping. I slept with Misty on the hide-a-bed in Madonna’s living room.
After about 3 ½ hours of sleep, everyone got up and discussed arrangements; a wake with a rosary would be held on Friday evening, and Michael was to be buried on Saturday morning. Misty asked me to sing at the funeral. “Honey, I don’t know if I can do that,” I told her. “I’m afraid I will start crying in the middle of my singing.” She said, “Please, Mom. It would mean so much to me and to Michael.” I agreed to do my best. I would sing “Amazing Grace.”
Dolly told me that they had looked all over Leavenworth the day before, for a black dress for Misty to wear to the funeral. She had been very upset, because she had been unable to find a basic black dress in her size; size 3. They decided to make the thirty minute drive to Metro North Shopping Mall in North Kansas City to find a dress. Misty, Dolly, Melisa and I would be going. While we were getting ready to go, Misty went to her older sister Lisa and said, “You have to go with us!” Lisa agreed to go. When we arrived at the mall, we chose JC Penney’s as the store to start our search in. As we walked into the store, Lisa made an immediate right turn, then a left. She walked directly over to a rack with dresses on it and picked a dress off the rack. “What about this one?” she asked Misty. Misty looked at the dress and exclaimed, “That’s the one I want!” We all walked over to the dress and looked at the size. It was a size 3. Next, we noticed the tag at the back of the neckline. There, the manufacturer’s tag read, “Dani Michaels.” D-a-n-i was the US Army’s abbreviation for the name “Daniels.” Dani Michaels……Michael Daniels. Incredulously, we also noticed that the i’s on both parts of the name were dotted with hearts. Throughout the time they had dated and into their marriage, Michael drew hearts on all his notes and letters to Misty. He wrote her name with a heart instead of a dot on the i. We believed that Michael had chosen this dress for Misty.
We continued our search for Misty’s outfit for the funeral. She still needed shoes and hosiery, so we went into a shoe store and inspected the shoes on the shelves. I found a pair of pumps, covered with a material similar to the dress we just bought. When we went to the checkout counter, the clerk asked Misty if she needed pantyhose. She responded, “Yes, a black pair, with designs on them, please.” She turned to me and said, “Michael always loved it when I wore stocking with designs on them.” The clerk flipped through the packages hanging on the rack. There was only one pair of black stockings with designs on them, and the clerk held them up for us to see. Down the sides of the stockings, near the ankles, were embroidered black roses. Roses were a significant part of Misty and Michael’s relationship. Since they first dated and into their marriage, Michael always gave Misty a single rose. Again, we felt reassured that Michael was with us.
Thursday, February 28, 1991
Personnel from the VA Center in Leavenworth made arrangements for some of our family members to stay at the VA Director’s quarters, a large two-story house with numerous bedrooms. The Leavenworth “Support Our Troops Foundation” made arrangements for other family members to stay in a second large house, located in the center of town. Family members began to arrive for the funeral. Three of Michael’s aunts and two cousins from California, one aunt from New York, his great aunt and uncle and three cousins from Iowa, and one uncle from Florida had arrived. As they arrived, personnel from the Support Our Troops Foundation took the family members to the places where they would stay. Various local organizations made arrangements and brought food to feed our entire group, as it grew. The Leavenworth community rallied in support of our families, and we were overwhelmed by the caring and generosity of so many people.
I rode with Misty and Madonna to go check on the facilities at the VA house to make sure everyone was okay and to inform them of the day’s itinerary. Flowers needed to be ordered and Michael’s body was scheduled to arrive from Dover, Delaware sometime later in the evening. Afterward, as we were on our way back to Madonna’s house, we were turning a corner when Misty exclaimed, “Mom! Look!” I turned and looked in the direction she was pointing and saw a large, red, heart-shaped balloon floating, heading away from us in the sky. Misty said she saw something out of the corner of her eye. When she turned to look at it, the balloon was headed towards us. Suddenly, it hit a high wire and flipped around in the opposite direction. On the opposite side of the balloon were three words, “I love you!” Wherever the balloon came from, we felt that Michael was still trying to let Misty know he was with her. He had sent many such balloons to Misty during their times of separation when he went to Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training for his chosen military occupation.
Thursday evening, we gathered at the VA house for our evening meal. After the meal was over, we sat and talked with other family members, discussing who was still coming and who had already arrived. Misty came up to me and said, “Mom, smell my hands!” I smelled….one hand smelled of soap, and the other carried the unmistakable scent of men’s cologne. Misty said, “I just washed both of my hands with soap. One smells like soap, the other smells like Michael’s cologne!” Various family members smelled Misty’s hands and agreed that the cologne scent was Michael’s, as Misty made her way around the room. When she came back to me, I smelled again, and the scent was much stronger than before, emitting from the palm of her hand. Misty embraced one hand with the other, and continued to smell. A few minutes later, the scent was completely gone.
Casualty Assistance officer, Army Captain Itao, assigned to assist Misty with all the arrangements for her husband’s funeral, spoke to us about Michael. He assured us that Michael had received appropriate respect as he was transported back from Germany to the United States. All soldiers had stood at attention and saluted his casket as he passed, at each station. Transporting him from Saudi Arabia to Germany and the autopsy conducted in Dover, Delaware had all taken time. Now, Michael was due to arrive this evening at the funeral home. The Captain said Michael would be buried in uniform with full military honors. However, he said the casket would not be open for viewing. As family members began to cry, some asked, “Why can’t we see him? We never got a chance to say goodbye!” “It’s a matter of honor,” he answered. His injuries were such that it is more honorable to him to keep the casket closed.”
Later that night, two of my aunts and uncles from San Antonio, Texas arrived. My sister Debbie flew from her home in California to South Dakota to ride by car with the rest of my family. By 1:30 am Friday morning, my mother and father, four sisters and three of my brothers had all arrived in Leavenworth and were taken to their designated places to sleep and to prepare for the next day.
Friday, March 1, 1991
At about 5:30 am, I was in a half-asleep, half-awake state, when I “heard” God’s Ten Commandments being recited over and over again; “Thou shalt not kill; Honor they Father and thy Mother; Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy; and then, “That’s all you’ve got to do. That’s all you’ve got to do.” I awoke and sat up. Craig had gone into the kitchen, and seeing that I was awake, offered me a cup of coffee. I must have looked troubled, because he asked me, “Are you okay?” I told him I didn’t know why, but I woke up with the Ten Commandments going around in my head. I told him, “I’m not a Catholic, and really, I couldn’t recite all the commandments if I wanted to. Why do I have them going around in my head!??” As I spoke to Craig, all of a sudden, emotion, warmth, and an indescribable feeling of love overwhelmed me as I also “heard” the voice again, this time saying, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” I began to cry.
A couple of hours later, we waited at Madonna’s house for my family to arrive. When my parents and brothers and sisters arrived, they stood in line from the front door out into the front yard, all the way to the street. One by one, they each held Misty and cried with her for Michael.
In the afternoon, news media personnel from Kansas City came to interview Misty and Michael’s parents. I sat beside Misty, in awe of my daughter as she spoke in front of the cameras. “This is something that I wouldn’t wish on any other family,” she said. “But Michael was doing what he wanted to do. He was proud to serve his country, and he did the most honorable thing any American can ever do. He gave his life for his country.”
The evening rosary was to be held at 7 pm at the funeral chapel. Everyone went in their different directions to prepare for the evening services. I was out of cigarettes, so I went to the nearest grocery store. When I parked my car and looked around, there were so many people in the store and I didn’t want to stand in line, so I decided instead to go to a nearby convenience store, Wood’s Convenience Mart. As I waited for the clerk to get my cigarettes for me, I noticed a small, velvet-covered “cat-scratching post” on the counter. It was a display for wrist bands, and on it were two yellow Desert Storm wrist bands; one was imprinted “Husband” and the other said “Son.” By this time, I accepted nothing that was happening as coincidence. I bought them both and gave one to Misty and the other to Michael’s parents.
At approximate 6:00 pm that evening, I went with Misty, Craig, Dolly, Melisa and Madonna to the funeral chapel. Immediate family members were allowed some time with Michael before the rest of the people arrived for the Rosary. I was honored to be included with my daughter. The silver casket lay in state, covered with the American Flag, a crucifix of Jesus Christ stood behind it. Our aching hearts broke more than before as we wrapped our arms around each other and cried. One by one, we told Michael how much we loved him and how proud of him we all were. One by one, we caressed the flag draped over his casket, acknowledging that we would soon say our final goodbye to him. In the background, the song I had chosen for Michael, Bette Midler’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings” repeatedly asked, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?”
Craig, Dolly, Melisa and Madonna left the room to board the limo that would take us to the cemetery. I held Misty as she cried and when she turned and hugged the casket, I tried to comfort her. But I couldn’t. She cried out to Michael as she sobbed broken-heartedly, holding onto the casket and I felt helpless. Finally, my brother Leonard came over to her, pulled her away from the casket and held her as she cried on his shoulder. It took several minutes for her to pull herself together so we could join the others in the limousine.
Saturday, March 2, 1991
Michael was laid to rest at approximately 12:00 noon at Ft. Leavenworth National Cemetery. As we rode past them in the limousine, soldiers along the way halted whatever they were doing, stood at attention and saluted our Michael. He was a hero. At the gravesite, the wind was bitterly cold as we sat through the service. Cries and moans rang out from the crowd as the bugler played “Taps.” I thought I could not hurt any more than I already did, until the soldier handed the folded flag to Misty and she hugged the flag to her chest and sobbed. After the service ended, the gentleman from the funeral home took Misty’s arm and guided her back to the limousine. As she cried, he comforted her. “Don’t cry, baby. Everything will be okay.” These were Michael’s words.
The area was surrounded by news media, local citizens and VIP’s, including Kansas State Governor Bob Dole. Our family was humbled and overwhelmed by the enormity of the reason for all this attention towards Michael. The pride we felt was bittersweet, mixed with grief and anguish. The rest of the day is hard to remember. In a daze, we all attended the luncheon provided by the American Legion Auxiliary, visited with family members and friends and took pictures.
That evening, family members began to plan their departures back to their homes. My parents decided to leave on Monday morning. We all spent the day on Sunday trying to visit as much as possible in the short amount of time we had. On Sunday evening, Misty and I decided to spend the night at the VA house with my family in order to say goodbye to them in the morning. We shared a bedroom with Wayne and Lisa. They slept on the bed, Misty slept on the couch and I made a pallet on the floor beside her. In the early hours of the morning, I was sound asleep when I thought I heard deep, crying sobs. I sat up, startled, and was concerned because I thought Misty was crying in her sleep. Misty’s eyes opened, and I asked her, “Honey, are you okay?” She answered, “Yes, Mom. Are you?” I told her I was fine and we both went back to sleep. Later that morning, after my family had risen and left for South Dakota, Misty told me, “Mom, I heard someone crying last night.” I responded, “So did I!” I mimicked to her exactly what I had heard and she told me, astoundedly, “That’s exactly the way Michael sounded when we were saying goodbye before he left and he cried with me!” I had never heard Michael cry. How could I mimic his cry and sound just like him? We felt that somehow, Michael was trying to reassure us that he was still with us.
We decided to go get some breakfast, so we got ready and went to the nearby McDonald’s. We were standing in front of the counter, studying the menu and trying to decide what to order, when I heard someone say distinctly, “Misty!” I whirled around to look behind me, and at the same time, Misty did the same thing.
”Oh, Mom!” she cried, “I’m losing my mind!” I answered her, “No, you are not! I heard that, too.” She looked at me pleadingly and asked, “What did you hear?” “I heard someone say ‘Misty!’,” I told her. She said she was relieved that I heard it too, since it sounded just like Michael’s voice and she wanted to make sure she hadn’t just imagined it. I actually expected to see Michael’s father, Craig, standing behind us because his and Michael’s voices sometimes sounded the same. There was no one there.
I received a phone call from my brother Mario after he arrived back in Rapid City. “Our tribe wants to honor Michael”, he told me. I asked, “Do they know that Michael is not an Indian?” He responded, “They know and they said it doesn’t matter. He married one of ours, so he is one of ours.” The memorial was being planned to be held in Rapid City upon our return from Kansas.
One week after Michael’s funeral, on March 9, 1991, our tribe, the Oglala Lakota Nation held the memorial ceremony to honor Michael. The ceremony was open to the public and hundreds of people attended it. Tribal Elder Oliver Red Cloud spoke eloquently of the important role that warriors have always held for Indian people. “In past times,” he said, “we haven’t always treated our soldiers right when they returned from the war. So, better late than never!” He held his arms out, exclaiming, “Welcome home from the war! We honor you and thank you for what you have done!” Veterans in the audience had tears streaming down their faces as he spoke. Another elder, Marie Randall spoke to Misty. “You are not alone,” she told her. “Look at the people who are here with you and who care about you.” In honor of Michael’s bravery, Misty was presented with the highest honor possible. She was given an eagle feather by the Grey Eagle Society, the elders in our tribe.
For the next several weeks, Misty tried repeatedly to speak to someone from Michael’s company at Hunter Army Air Field. She left messages for the Commander to call her but he never returned her calls. Finally, Captain German’s wife answered the phone. “I hope you realize,” she told Misty, “that our husbands have been gone for six months and we want to enjoy their company now that they are back. That’s why we haven’t returned your calls.” The insensitivity of this officer’s wife was unbelievable. Misty didn’t need any reminder about how long the husbands had been gone. Michael left the same time as the others, but was not coming back. At the end of March, Misty and I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, to spend some time with Arricca Reichle, the widow of the pilot who died with Michael. We wanted some answers. We went with Arricca to the Commander’s office and requested to meet with some of the troops who had been there the night Michael and Hal were killed. Misty and Arricca were able to ask them questions to try to get a clearer picture of what had happened. As far as they could tell, the troops said problems arose on their return from the reconnaissance mission. The crash happened sixty-five miles inside Iraq, not on the Saudi-Iraqi border as was first reported. They had completed their mission and were headed back to Saudi Arabia when they ran into a dense fog. Simultaneously, strong winds were blowing, creating a sandstorm. Michael and Hal may have had problems navigating due to the wind, fog and sand, and no visibility. One of the Apache helicopter pilots told us that in Hal’s last radio transmission, he radioed in saying, “We can’t see your tail lights. We’re losing you……we’ve lost you.” Then, there was nothing but static. Only Michael, Hal and God could know for sure what had happened. No rescue mission was possible until the weather cleared up a day later. The pilot of the “Huey” chopper, who was in charge of the search and rescue mission cried as he described how he had taken a couple of new medic recruits with him. The site of the wreckage was so traumatic for them, the new recruits laid down their weapons and walked around in a daze, so the pilot had to sedate them and recover the bodies himself. He told how he had personally lifted Michael and Hal from the wreckage and carried them into the rescue helicopter to begin the lengthy process of sending them home. He assured Misty and Arricca that the G-force of the crash was so great, it would certainly have caused instantaneous death for Michael and Hal. We left this meeting, at least knowing a little more than we knew before.
On April 23, 1991, Misty and I flew from Rapid City back to Leavenworth, Kansas. The 24th would have been Misty and Michael’s first wedding anniversary. She bought a dozen red sweetheart roses and one single red rose and took them to his gravesite. “Take a picture of me, Mom,” she requested, as she stood with the flowers beside Michael’s grave.” I raised the camera and tried to focus for the picture, but was overcome by my tears and the poignancy of the picture impacted me. This was not the way I hoped my daughter would be spending her first wedding anniversary. I finally took the picture, then went back to the edge of the cemetery to give Misty some time with Michael. I sat on the grass and cried. After about fifteen minutes or so, Misty called out to me. I went back to stand beside her and she told me she sat down, crying uncontrollably at first. Then, calmness engulfed her. She felt that Michael was at peace.
May 9, 1991
Misty and I sat in my living room, looking at pictures of her and Michael and talking about all that we had been through since Michael was deployed. It had been almost three months since he was killed. As we turned the pages of the photo album, Misty looked at me, wide-eyed, and exclaimed, “I smell roses!” At that moment, I smelled them, too. The smell of roses surrounded us for just a few moments. Then, it was gone.
June 1, 1991
Ten months had gone by since Michael was deployed. My niece Angela was finally coming home from Saudi Arabia. It was an emotional event to plan for. We sent two family members off to war. One survived and one was lost forever. We scheduled a welcome home reception at a local hotel. Though we had a large turnout, unfortunately, our guest of honor was not able to attend. Her flight in from Chicago was delayed and she would not arrive until much later in the evening. We were not able to officially welcome her home until we saw her several days later.
June 8, 1991
Misty received a formal invitation from the No Greater Love Foundation out of Washington, DC to attend the Victory Celebration of all the American troops returning from Desert Storm. She was able to take two guests with her, so she invited me and my sister Debbie to attend the celebration. There, we met other widows and family members of other troops killed in the war. At the Victory Parade, we watched with lumps in our throats, full of pride as our returned troops marched past us – and with renewed pain, as Michael’s unit’s helicopters flew past, overhead.
The memorial service held in the rotunda of Arlington National Cemetery was poignant for all of us and was attended by President and Mrs. George Bush, General and Mrs. Norman Swartzkopf, General and Mrs. Colin Powell, the Ambassador from Kuwait and the Prince of Saudi Arabia. At the end of the service, there were tears throughout the crowd as our fine Air Force B-1 fighters flew overhead in the Missing Man formation, signifying the losses of our troops who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
July, 1991
The 50th Anniversary of Mount Rushmore National Memorial was publicized and the entire Black Hills region was full of anticipation. President George Bush was scheduled to attend the celebration on the 4th of July. Since it is a Lakota custom to present gifts to our guests, I wrote to President Bush commending him for his performance as our Commander In Chief during the Persian Gulf War, and requested permission for Misty to meet with him at Mount Rushmore to make a presentation of gifts from our family. I explained the reasons for my request; that I felt Misty deserved the honor of making the presentation as the only Gulf War Widow from the State of South Dakota. I copied my request to South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler, who was quick to respond that he would do everything he could to help make our presentation possible. The week before the celebration, I received a telephone call from the White House, instructing me where to go to obtain our official Staff Pass for our car in order to take Misty to meet the President. On July 4, 1991 in full traditional regalia, Misty met President and Mrs. George Bush at Mount Rushmore and presented them with the Oglala Sioux Tribal Flag, a star quilt with an eagle standing on a peace pipe (signifying America at Peace) and some beadwork.
Several months later, Senator Larry Pressler wrote to me to inform me that my letter to the President was presented to Congress and was voted in as a permanent part of Congressional Record.
August, 1991
Our family was invited to attend a secondary Victory Celebration in the city of Dallas, Texas. Our host this time was Ross Perot. Again, we went to participate in a celebration of the return of our troops and met other family members; survivors of Gulf War casualties.
February, 1992
It was a year since Michael was killed. Misty received an invitation from the No Greater Love Foundation to attend a Desert Storm Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. We attended this Memorial which included the planting of a memorial tree in tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Desert Storm.
April, 1993
The invitation read, “The people of Kuwait would like to express their gratitude to you, first-hand, for the sacrifice of your loved one made for the liberation of Kuwait.” In April of 1993, I flew with Misty and an entourage of 196 other family members to visit the people of Kuwait, a journey officially named “Desert Peace.” After eight hours from New York to London and another eight hours from London to Kuwait City, we arrived. We were greeted with a red carpet, laid from the entrance of the terminal door down the stairs to the reception. As we deplaned and walked down the carpet, we were greeted by Kuwaiti people, waving the American Flag and the Kuwaiti Flag, tears streaming down their faces, as they applauded. The little children in the group clapped their hands and cheered, “USA, USA, USA, Kuwait!! USA, USA, USA, Kuwait!!” One woman came up to us and embraced us both. “Thank you,” she said. “There is no way we can ever tell you how grateful we are to the American people. You gave us back our country; you gave us back our lives and our freedom. Thank you for the sacrifice of your loved one.” The entire reception room was filled with people embracing and crying together. Many of the Kuwaiti’s wore buttons on their clothing, bearing the pictures of their own family members who had died in the war. We spent one whole week with the people of Kuwait and met twenty-seven other American “Gulf War Widows” and numerous other family members who had lost their loved ones. Our visit included a dinner at the palace with the Crowned Prince and Royal Family of Kuwait where we presented the Royal family with an Oglala Sioux flag and a letter of thanks from our Tribal President.
Reflecting back on our trip after our return home, Misty spoke to me about our emotional experiences in Kuwait. “Michael would have been proud to know that his part in Desert Storm impacted so many lives. He gave his life so those kids could have their lives.”
It has been fifteen years since the Gulf War. Since then, 9/11 and the attack on our World Trade Center has happened. The United States invaded Iraq and Saddam Hussein is in custody, on trial for his crimes against humanity. I admit a certain sense of glory and satisfaction when I heard the news that he’d been captured. He’s the reason why Michael went to war. Fifteen years have passed and still, every time I hear about Kuwait and every time I hear Bette Midler singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” on the radio, the waves of grief wash over me again, and a lump forms in my throat. This song has since been dubbed “Michael’s Song” by me and my family members. Looking back, I am still amazed at the strength shown by my daughter Misty, as she survived the horrible loss of her husband and as she continues to move on with her life. As I remember the events that occurred, I realize just how numb we all were throughout the entire experience. I truly believe that God does that on purpose when we experience a tragedy that traumatizes us so….He numbs us, so we won’t have to feel all of the pain, because He knows we could not handle all of the pain.
As time began to pass, I looked back on the Gulf War and tried to remember some things that happened and realized I had better write it down, or I might forget. The events I originally wrote down in bits and pieces are put together to make this story, a story I feel is worth sharing. For we, as Americans, live in the land of the free. And the freedom we enjoy was won by many, who just like Michael and Hal, did what my daughter Misty called “the most honorable thing any American could ever do.” They gave their lives for their country.
For Many people, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm are just a part of history. They heard, they watched, and now, for them it is all over. For those of us who had family members and friends over there, and for those of us who lost our loved ones, it will never really be over. As we put the pieces of our lives back together and carried on, to this day we are mindful of the fact that our plans must be carried out without the presence of those we loved and lost. God bless our heroes. We miss them and we will never forget them.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

Operation Desert Storm – Olivia’s Story

My son-in-law, Michael David Daniels, was one of the soldiers killed in Operation Desert Storm. He died with his Pilot, Hal Hooper Reichle when their OH-58 Kiowa Scout helicopter crashed while on a reconnaissance mission in the Republic of Iraq on Wednesday, February 20, 1991. It was one of the hardest experiences of my life. Through our loss of Michael, our family has become more acutely aware of the preciousness of life and how important it is to cherish the time we have with our loved ones. This is my story of what happened to us when Saddam Hussein gave his army the order to invade Kuwait.
August, 1990
It was a good feeling to know that I had successfully raised three children to adulthood. My oldest daughter, Lisa was 21 and had married her Fiancée, Wayne on New Year’s Day, 1990. My youngest child, Patrick had just turned 18. Lisa, Wayne and Patrick were living with me and my husband Clarence in Rapid City, South Dakota. My second child, my daughter Misty was 19 and had just married her high school sweetheart, Michael on April 24, 1990.
Misty was living with Michael in Savannah, Georgia. He had joined the Army after they both graduated from Leavenworth High School in Leavenworth, Kansas. He was assigned to Hunter Army Air Field, Georgia, where he worked as an Aero Scout Observer for A Company, 1/24th Aviation Regiment. His job was to help sight targets for the Apache attack helicopter, should our Armed Forces ever become involved in war. When he told me about the job he had chosen, I looked questioningly at him, asking, “That’s a dangerous job, isn’t it?” “Yes,” he answered. “If the enemy ever spots us, we’d have about seven seconds to live.” His statement was made matter-of-factly.
Misty and Michael had been together for four years. As high school sweethearts, they had shared homecoming, high school prom and other dances, and finally, high school graduation. Their marriage was something they had both hoped and planned for and I knew they were both ecstatically happy to finally be married. I had received a letter from Misty, telling me that she and Michael had saved money for a belated honeymoon, and would be taking a vacation ocean liner cruise to the Bahamas around the first part of August. I expected a postcard from them anytime. When I received the call from Misty, she was crying. She told me that on the second day of their honeymoon, Michael had received a call from his unit, telling him that his leave was officially canceled, and that he would have to cut his honeymoon short and return to Hunter Army Air Field. Michael was being deployed. I had been keeping up with the latest news, and knew that the trouble in the Middle East was probably the reason for the deployment. The country of Iraq had taken over the small country of Kuwait. As always, the United States was called upon for assistance. I repeatedly called Misty once she and Mike were back in Georgia. His departure date was uncertain from one day to another and the anxiety was almost unbearable. The date he was to have already left, I called and Misty informed me, “He’s still here. Do you want to talk to him?” I held the phone tightly as I assured Michael, “I want you to know that I will always be worried about you while you’re gone. Take care of yourself and come home safely.” “And,” I added, “I want you to know that I love you,” I could tell he was smiling. “I love you too,” he replied. On the 29th of August, 1990, my son-in-law left for Saudi Arabia.
By the middle of September, Misty had informed me that Michael could be gone for up to a year. She wanted to come home. On September 16, 1990, Lisa, Wayne and I drove from Rapid City, South Dakota to Savannah, Georgia to bring Misty home to wait until Michael returned. I thought she would be okay waiting with me. But every time she retreated to her room and I went to check on her, she would be lying on her bed crying. She was miserable without her husband.
Misty decided to go to Germany where Michael’s father, Army Master Sergeant Craig Daniels had been assigned. The family had been there for over a year and had invited Misty to come and live with them while she waited for Michael’s return. Also, Misty told me that if Michael had a chance to go on “R&R” (rest and relaxation), he would be able to meet her in Germany. Just the thought of being in Germany, closer to Michael, was very comforting to her. She left on December 3, 1990.
My family was afraid. Michel had been in Saudi Arabia since August – a little more than three months. Now, we also had my older brother Mario’s nineteen-year-old daughter, Angela getting ready to go. She had joined the Army in March of 1990, and by the third of December she was also on her way to Saudi Arabia.
The United States joined with other countries to form a United Nations Coalition to order Iraq out of Kuwait. The leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, had authorized his army to continue their occupation of Kuwait and reports from undercover resistance members told of plundering, rape, torture and murder. The Iraqi’s were acting upon the orders of a madman. A deadline for their withdrawal from Kuwait was set by the UN coalition for Tuesday, January 15, 1991. With the UN deadline rapidly approaching, we knew war was imminent.
Monday, January 14, 1991
My family was tormented by the thought of war starting with Michael and Angela in Saudi Arabia. We feared the worst could happen. My mother is of what most Americans refer to as “Sioux Indian” decent. Our people call ourselves “Lakota”. Our belief in the powers of the Great Spirit has always been strong. We decided to have a traditional Lakota prayer vigil, to pray for our loved ones going to war. The ceremony was held outside the Indian community of Wanblee, South Dakota at 6:30 in the evening. Before the holy ceremony is conducted by our people, a purification ceremony precedes the prayer in ceremony. The men in the group gathered wood to start the fire, to heat the rocks for the sweat lodge. As the fire began to rage, we stood and watched. From the middle of the fire, a red glow began to rise…..a cylinder-shaped red glow slowly rose from the center of the fire straight up into the sky as far as we could see. We had never seen anything like it. The Medicine Man told us it was a sign from the Great Spirit. We never knew what the sign meant, until later. The Medicine Man also told us that although Angela was unaware of our ceremony to pray for her, she would see a sign in the desert, to assure her she was being watched over. The prayer ceremony lasted until 11:00pm on our way back to Rapid City, we were all quiet. We had placed our faith in the Great Spirit that everything would be all right.
Wednesday, January 16, 1991
4:30PM MST
I was working at my desk, when I heard President Bush’s voice on the radio: “Ladies and Gentlemen…..the liberation of Kuwait has begun.” My heart began to pound rapidly. I ran to the employee break room where a couple of my co-workers were already watching CNN’s broadcast. UN Coalition Armed Forces had begun bombing the capital of Baghdad, Iraq. America was at war.
Although I had trouble concentrating, I finished my shift at work and went home. Troubled, I tossed and turned, unable to sleep. At about 1:00 in the morning, the phone rang. It was Misty calling from Germany. I could hear the alarm in her voice. “Mom!” she cried. “The war has started!” At 4:30 our time in Rapid City when the bombing had begun, it was 12:30am in Germany, and Misty and Mike’s family had been asleep, unaware that the war had begun. When Misty woke up that morning, she had turned on the television and became frightened to see the caption “America at War.” I reassured her, “Don’t worry, honey. So far, we are doing great.” I updated her on the broadcasts I had watched the previous evening, with our fighter pilots returning from their sorties, and that, so far, the Iraqi’s did not even seem to be responding. She seemed somewhat comforted, and we hung up promising to keep in close touch.
The bombing continued, 24 hours a day, for a month. Still, Saddam Hussein stubbornly refused to withdraw his troops from Kuwait. Americans everywhere discussed the war. The General of the United States Army publicly proclaimed that a ground war was unavoidable. I had been diligently writing to Michael and Angela, and I worried constantly about their safety. Michael wrote back steadily, always assuring me that he was okay; that he was proud to be doing his part for America, and that he couldn’t wait to get back home to his life with Misty. The fact that he was deeply in love with my daughter was evident and I felt grateful that my daughter had found such a great love. I was constantly stressed out, worrying about Michael and Angela’s safety as well as all our other troops who were in the Middle East in the name of world freedom. My family and I survived only through prayer. The fate of the world was in God’s hands.
During this time, Angela had helped lay telephone lines in the Saudi desert, and she was able to call home. Though eagle sightings in the desert are not typical, she told her father that she had seen an eagle circling overhead in the desert. This was our assurance and her “sign” that the Medicine Man had predicted….the Great Spirit was watching over her.
Thursday, February 21, 1991
Approximately 4:50PM
I was in the doctor’s exam room at the Sioux San Indian Hospital, when I heard my name over the intercom – “Olivia Felder, please call the switchboard.” I told Dr. Larson,
“They just paged me to call the switchboard.” He dialed the number for me. The hospital operator told me, “You have to call home right away for an emergency message!” I dialed my house – no answer. I dialed my mom and dad’s house, and the phones connected. I could hear my mother moaning as she punched in numbers, unaware that I was on the line. My mother had three previous heart attacks and my first thought was that she was having another one. “Mom!” I called to her, “What’s wrong!!??” When she heard me she began to sob, “Oh, my God! It’s Michael, Misty’s husband! He’s been killed! She wants you to call her in Germany right away!” I hung up the phone and the impact of the message hit me. I burst into tears and told the doctor that I had to leave, and why. I ran out through the waiting room, vaguely aware that people were turning to look at me, curiously. As I ran out into the hospital parking lot, my husband Clarence jumped out of the car asking, “What happened? What’s wrong?” I told him, “Mom just called me. Michael got killed. I have to call Misty right away!” All the way across town, I moaned and cried, not believing that this could be real.
When Misty answered the phone, I said “Hi, Baby.” My daughter burst into tears. “Oh, Mom,” she cried. “My baby, I’m so sorry,” I told her over and over again. I asked her what happened and she explained that she and Michael’s family were watching the evening news and heard that an OH-58 helicopter had crashed with two American soldiers on board. She tried not to worry and had already been in bed for the evening when the doorbell rang at about 1:00 in the morning. She watched through the glass window in the hallway as her mother and father-in-law were passing by her room, on their way to answer the door. When Misty opened the door, her father-in-law looked at her wide-eyed and said, “Misty, you have to come downstairs with us.” His arms were around his wife’s shoulders and she was crying. Two soldiers in uniform had come knocking at their door. They informed her that Michael’s helicopter had crashed near the Saudi-Iraqi border, killing both Michael and his pilot, Hal Reichle. I told Misty I had just that morning mailed a letter to Michael with a copy of the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. “Here are a couple of prayers that I rely on to give me strength,” I had written. “Carry them with you and maybe they’ll help you, too.” He would never receive my letter. My heart ached as I thought about the letter I had just received from Michael. “I guess you could say I’m scared,” he had written, “but I know I’ll be fine. There’s nothing here that could stop me from seeing Misty again.” I asked to speak to Michael’s mother, Dolly. “Olivia,” she sobbed, “he was a good boy! And he was so-o-o brave!” We cried together for the precious young man we loved, who we would never again see, walking, talking, laughing, and being with us. I told Dolly, “I didn’t’ give birth to him, but he was my son, too. He called me ‘Mom’, too.”
Friday morning, February 22, 1991
Misty and Michael’s parents decided, together, that Michael would be buried at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. This was where Michael’s father had been stationed in the Army for six years and where I had been assigned during my four-year stint in the Army as well; it was where Misty and Michael had attended school since junior high, met, fell in love, and graduated from high school together. Michael’s grandmother, Madonna Cook, still lived there. Family members began to plan for the funeral.
I needed to figure out my finances, so that I could make the trip to Kansas. My family helped me to arrange for deferments on my rent and car payment. One problem still worried me. I had made numerous telephone calls to Germany and various family members as we gave each other moral support through the war. My phone bill of $112 needed to be paid before I could make the trip, or I would lose my phone service. When I went to my place of employment to get an advance on my paycheck, along with the advance I received two envelopes containing sympathy cards from my co-workers. Inside one of the envelopes, there was also some money donated by my fellow employees. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I counted the money and it totaled the exact amount of $112! My sister Maggie told me, “God is taking care of you.”
Friday evening, February 22, 1991
Misty called and told me that the military had made arrangements for them to be flown back from Germany on a MAC (military aircraft) flight, which was to leave at 4:00am (Germany time) the following morning, Saturday, February 23. They were eight hours ahead of our time in Rapid City. At 8:00am Saturday morning, she called me to tell me that their flight was delayed due to “no space available.” They would try again the next morning, Sunday, the 24th, again at 4:00am. Meanwhile, Misty, Michael’s parents Craig and Dolly, and his little sister Melisa went that evening to the Chapel in Vilseck, Germany, where they had attended Catholic mass together throughout the time they awaited the end of the war. The members of the parish had submitted names of their loved ones who were serving in the Gulf, and those names had been mounted on large wooden plaques in the shape of a Shield (Operation Desert Shield) and hung on the wall of the Chapel. Misty was going to take a picture of the plaque with Michael’s name on it. As she made her way out of the pew, somehow the kneeler fell and hit her on the ankle. That night as she bathed, she noticed the reddened area where the kneeler had hit her ankle. She said she had to get out of the bathtub and show it to Michael’s family to make sure she wasn’t just seeing things. The unmistakable shape of a cross with “Mary” clearly imprinted across it was verified by the family.
Misty called me repeatedly to keep me posted on the progress of their return back to the states. In one of her calls, she told me that she and Michael’s family were reviewing some of the mail they received from Michael in the past couple of months. “I really believe that it was Michael’s time to go,” she told me. She explained that Michael had sent her a poem in October. He called her and told her, “I had a strange dream last night, so I wrote you a poem and I’m sending it to you. I hope you like it.” Misty promised to let me read the poem when we met up in Leavenworth.
The next morning, Sunday, February 24th, the family tried again to get a flight out of Germany. Again, they were delayed. Finally, on their third day of trying, they were on their way. It was Monday, February 25, 1991. They were to fly to St. Louis, Missouri, where a military car and driver would be waiting to drive them to Leavenworth. Their anticipated arrival time in Leavenworth was 12:00 midnight Monday, or 1:00am Tuesday morning. I set my departure time for the eleven-hour drive for Tuesday morning.
Early am, Wednesday, February 27, 1991
As we crossed the bridge over the Missouri River into Leavenworth, Kansas, it was 1:00 in the morning. I noticed vaguely that the town hadn’t changed much since we moved away almost a year ago. We went directly to Michael’s grandmother’s house, where Misty and the family would be waiting. When we arrived, they greeted us at the door. I wrapped my arms around my young daughter and cried with her. Dolly, Craig and Madonna joined us. Together, we huddled with our arms around each other, as we mourned our loss of Michael.
Later, Craig asked me what time we had arrived in town. I told him we crossed the bridge at 1:00. Astounded, he told me, “I was sound asleep, when something woke me up. It was right at 1:00. Something made me get up and ask Misty, ‘Where’s your mother?!’ She should have been here by now!” Then, he looked out the window and we were walking up the steps in front of the house.
We stayed up, talking, until about 3:00am, then everyone made their way to where they would be sleeping. I slept with Misty on the hide-a-bed in Madonna’s living room.
After about 3 ½ hours of sleep, everyone got up and discussed arrangements; a wake with a rosary would be held on Friday evening, and Michael was to be buried on Saturday morning. Misty asked me to sing at the funeral. “Honey, I don’t know if I can do that,” I told her. “I’m afraid I will start crying in the middle of my singing.” She said, “Please, Mom. It would mean so much to me and to Michael.” I agreed to do my best. I would sing “Amazing Grace.”
Dolly told me that they had looked all over Leavenworth the day before, for a black dress for Misty to wear to the funeral. She had been very upset, because she had been unable to find a basic black dress in her size; size 3. They decided to make the thirty minute drive to Metro North Shopping Mall in North Kansas City to find a dress. Misty, Dolly, Melisa and I would be going. While we were getting ready to go, Misty went to her older sister Lisa and said, “You have to go with us!” Lisa agreed to go. When we arrived at the mall, we chose JC Penney’s as the store to start our search in. As we walked into the store, Lisa made an immediate right turn, then a left. She walked directly over to a rack with dresses on it and picked a dress off the rack. “What about this one?” she asked Misty. Misty looked at the dress and exclaimed, “That’s the one I want!” We all walked over to the dress and looked at the size. It was a size 3. Next, we noticed the tag at the back of the neckline. There, the manufacturer’s tag read, “Dani Michaels.” D-a-n-i was the US Army’s abbreviation for the name “Daniels.” Dani Michaels……Michael Daniels. Incredulously, we also noticed that the i’s on both parts of the name were dotted with hearts. Throughout the time they had dated and into their marriage, Michael drew hearts on all his notes and letters to Misty. He wrote her name with a heart instead of a dot on the i. We believed that Michael had chosen this dress for Misty.
We continued our search for Misty’s outfit for the funeral. She still needed shoes and hosiery, so we went into a shoe store and inspected the shoes on the shelves. I found a pair of pumps, covered with a material similar to the dress we just bought. When we went to the checkout counter, the clerk asked Misty if she needed pantyhose. She responded, “Yes, a black pair, with designs on them, please.” She turned to me and said, “Michael always loved it when I wore stocking with designs on them.” The clerk flipped through the packages hanging on the rack. There was only one pair of black stockings with designs on them, and the clerk held them up for us to see. Down the sides of the stockings, near the ankles, were embroidered black roses. Roses were a significant part of Misty and Michael’s relationship. Since they first dated and into their marriage, Michael always gave Misty a single rose. Again, we felt reassured that Michael was with us.
Thursday, February 28, 1991
Personnel from the VA Center in Leavenworth made arrangements for some of our family members to stay at the VA Director’s quarters, a large two-story house with numerous bedrooms. The Leavenworth “Support Our Troops Foundation” made arrangements for other family members to stay in a second large house, located in the center of town. Family members began to arrive for the funeral. Three of Michael’s aunts and two cousins from California, one aunt from New York, his great aunt and uncle and three cousins from Iowa, and one uncle from Florida had arrived. As they arrived, personnel from the Support Our Troops Foundation took the family members to the places where they would stay. Various local organizations made arrangements and brought food to feed our entire group, as it grew. The Leavenworth community rallied in support of our families, and we were overwhelmed by the caring and generosity of so many people.
I rode with Misty and Madonna to go check on the facilities at the VA house to make sure everyone was okay and to inform them of the day’s itinerary. Flowers needed to be ordered and Michael’s body was scheduled to arrive from Dover, Delaware sometime later in the evening. Afterward, as we were on our way back to Madonna’s house, we were turning a corner when Misty exclaimed, “Mom! Look!” I turned and looked in the direction she was pointing and saw a large, red, heart-shaped balloon floating, heading away from us in the sky. Misty said she saw something out of the corner of her eye. When she turned to look at it, the balloon was headed towards us. Suddenly, it hit a high wire and flipped around in the opposite direction. On the opposite side of the balloon were three words, “I love you!” Wherever the balloon came from, we felt that Michael was still trying to let Misty know he was with her. He had sent many such balloons to Misty during their times of separation when he went to Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training for his chosen military occupation.
Thursday evening, we gathered at the VA house for our evening meal. After the meal was over, we sat and talked with other family members, discussing who was still coming and who had already arrived. Misty came up to me and said, “Mom, smell my hands!” I smelled….one hand smelled of soap, and the other carried the unmistakable scent of men’s cologne. Misty said, “I just washed both of my hands with soap. One smells like soap, the other smells like Michael’s cologne!” Various family members smelled Misty’s hands and agreed that the cologne scent was Michael’s, as Misty made her way around the room. When she came back to me, I smelled again, and the scent was much stronger than before, emitting from the palm of her hand. Misty embraced one hand with the other, and continued to smell. A few minutes later, the scent was completely gone.
Casualty Assistance officer, Army Captain Itao, assigned to assist Misty with all the arrangements for her husband’s funeral, spoke to us about Michael. He assured us that Michael had received appropriate respect as he was transported back from Germany to the United States. All soldiers had stood at attention and saluted his casket as he passed, at each station. Transporting him from Saudi Arabia to Germany and the autopsy conducted in Dover, Delaware had all taken time. Now, Michael was due to arrive this evening at the funeral home. The Captain said Michael would be buried in uniform with full military honors. However, he said the casket would not be open for viewing. As family members began to cry, some asked, “Why can’t we see him? We never got a chance to say goodbye!” “It’s a matter of honor,” he answered. His injuries were such that it is more honorable to him to keep the casket closed.”
Later that night, two of my aunts and uncles from San Antonio, Texas arrived. My sister Debbie flew from her home in California to South Dakota to ride by car with the rest of my family. By 1:30 am Friday morning, my mother and father, four sisters and three of my brothers had all arrived in Leavenworth and were taken to their designated places to sleep and to prepare for the next day.
Friday, March 1, 1991
At about 5:30 am, I was in a half-asleep, half-awake state, when I “heard” God’s Ten Commandments being recited over and over again; “Thou shalt not kill; Honor they Father and thy Mother; Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy; and then, “That’s all you’ve got to do. That’s all you’ve got to do.” I awoke and sat up. Craig had gone into the kitchen, and seeing that I was awake, offered me a cup of coffee. I must have looked troubled, because he asked me, “Are you okay?” I told him I didn’t know why, but I woke up with the Ten Commandments going around in my head. I told him, “I’m not a Catholic, and really, I couldn’t recite all the commandments if I wanted to. Why do I have them going around in my head!??” As I spoke to Craig, all of a sudden, emotion, warmth, and an indescribable feeling of love overwhelmed me as I also “heard” the voice again, this time saying, “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” I began to cry.
A couple of hours later, we waited at Madonna’s house for my family to arrive. When my parents and brothers and sisters arrived, they stood in line from the front door out into the front yard, all the way to the street. One by one, they each held Misty and cried with her for Michael.
In the afternoon, news media personnel from Kansas City came to interview Misty and Michael’s parents. I sat beside Misty, in awe of my daughter as she spoke in front of the cameras. “This is something that I wouldn’t wish on any other family,” she said. “But Michael was doing what he wanted to do. He was proud to serve his country, and he did the most honorable thing any American can ever do. He gave his life for his country.”
The evening rosary was to be held at 7 pm at the funeral chapel. Everyone went in their different directions to prepare for the evening services. I was out of cigarettes, so I went to the nearest grocery store. When I parked my car and looked around, there were so many people in the store and I didn’t want to stand in line, so I decided instead to go to a nearby convenience store, Wood’s Convenience Mart. As I waited for the clerk to get my cigarettes for me, I noticed a small, velvet-covered “cat-scratching post” on the counter. It was a display for wrist bands, and on it were two yellow Desert Storm wrist bands; one was imprinted “Husband” and the other said “Son.” By this time, I accepted nothing that was happening as coincidence. I bought them both and gave one to Misty and the other to Michael’s parents.
At approximate 6:00 pm that evening, I went with Misty, Craig, Dolly, Melisa and Madonna to the funeral chapel. Immediate family members were allowed some time with Michael before the rest of the people arrived for the Rosary. I was honored to be included with my daughter. The silver casket lay in state, covered with the American Flag, a crucifix of Jesus Christ stood behind it. Our aching hearts broke more than before as we wrapped our arms around each other and cried. One by one, we told Michael how much we loved him and how proud of him we all were. One by one, we caressed the flag draped over his casket, acknowledging that we would soon say our final goodbye to him. In the background, the song I had chosen for Michael, Bette Midler’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings” repeatedly asked, “Did you ever know that you’re my hero?”
Craig, Dolly, Melisa and Madonna left the room to board the limo that would take us to the cemetery. I held Misty as she cried and when she turned and hugged the casket, I tried to comfort her. But I couldn’t. She cried out to Michael as she sobbed broken-heartedly, holding onto the casket and I felt helpless. Finally, my brother Leonard came over to her, pulled her away from the casket and held her as she cried on his shoulder. It took several minutes for her to pull herself together so we could join the others in the limousine.
Saturday, March 2, 1991
Michael was laid to rest at approximately 12:00 noon at Ft. Leavenworth National Cemetery. As we rode past them in the limousine, soldiers along the way halted whatever they were doing, stood at attention and saluted our Michael. He was a hero. At the gravesite, the wind was bitterly cold as we sat through the service. Cries and moans rang out from the crowd as the bugler played “Taps.” I thought I could not hurt any more than I already did, until the soldier handed the folded flag to Misty and she hugged the flag to her chest and sobbed. After the service ended, the gentleman from the funeral home took Misty’s arm and guided her back to the limousine. As she cried, he comforted her. “Don’t cry, baby. Everything will be okay.” These were Michael’s words.
The area was surrounded by news media, local citizens and VIP’s, including Kansas State Governor Bob Dole. Our family was humbled and overwhelmed by the enormity of the reason for all this attention towards Michael. The pride we felt was bittersweet, mixed with grief and anguish. The rest of the day is hard to remember. In a daze, we all attended the luncheon provided by the American Legion Auxiliary, visited with family members and friends and took pictures.
That evening, family members began to plan their departures back to their homes. My parents decided to leave on Monday morning. We all spent the day on Sunday trying to visit as much as possible in the short amount of time we had. On Sunday evening, Misty and I decided to spend the night at the VA house with my family in order to say goodbye to them in the morning. We shared a bedroom with Wayne and Lisa. They slept on the bed, Misty slept on the couch and I made a pallet on the floor beside her. In the early hours of the morning, I was sound asleep when I thought I heard deep, crying sobs. I sat up, startled, and was concerned because I thought Misty was crying in her sleep. Misty’s eyes opened, and I asked her, “Honey, are you okay?” She answered, “Yes, Mom. Are you?” I told her I was fine and we both went back to sleep. Later that morning, after my family had risen and left for South Dakota, Misty told me, “Mom, I heard someone crying last night.” I responded, “So did I!” I mimicked to her exactly what I had heard and she told me, astoundedly, “That’s exactly the way Michael sounded when we were saying goodbye before he left and he cried with me!” I had never heard Michael cry. How could I mimic his cry and sound just like him? We felt that somehow, Michael was trying to reassure us that he was still with us.
We decided to go get some breakfast, so we got ready and went to the nearby McDonald’s. We were standing in front of the counter, studying the menu and trying to decide what to order, when I heard someone say distinctly, “Misty!” I whirled around to look behind me, and at the same time, Misty did the same thing.
”Oh, Mom!” she cried, “I’m losing my mind!” I answered her, “No, you are not! I heard that, too.” She looked at me pleadingly and asked, “What did you hear?” “I heard someone say ‘Misty!’,” I told her. She said she was relieved that I heard it too, since it sounded just like Michael’s voice and she wanted to make sure she hadn’t just imagined it. I actually expected to see Michael’s father, Craig, standing behind us because his and Michael’s voices sometimes sounded the same. There was no one there.
I received a phone call from my brother Mario after he arrived back in Rapid City. “Our tribe wants to honor Michael”, he told me. I asked, “Do they know that Michael is not an Indian?” He responded, “They know and they said it doesn’t matter. He married one of ours, so he is one of ours.” The memorial was being planned to be held in Rapid City upon our return from Kansas.
One week after Michael’s funeral, on March 9, 1991, our tribe, the Oglala Lakota Nation held the memorial ceremony to honor Michael. The ceremony was open to the public and hundreds of people attended it. Tribal Elder Oliver Red Cloud spoke eloquently of the important role that warriors have always held for Indian people. “In past times,” he said, “we haven’t always treated our soldiers right when they returned from the war. So, better late than never!” He held his arms out, exclaiming, “Welcome home from the war! We honor you and thank you for what you have done!” Veterans in the audience had tears streaming down their faces as he spoke. Another elder, Marie Randall spoke to Misty. “You are not alone,” she told her. “Look at the people who are here with you and who care about you.” In honor of Michael’s bravery, Misty was presented with the highest honor possible. She was given an eagle feather by the Grey Eagle Society, the elders in our tribe.
For the next several weeks, Misty tried repeatedly to speak to someone from Michael’s company at Hunter Army Air Field. She left messages for the Commander to call her but he never returned her calls. Finally, Captain German’s wife answered the phone. “I hope you realize,” she told Misty, “that our husbands have been gone for six months and we want to enjoy their company now that they are back. That’s why we haven’t returned your calls.” The insensitivity of this officer’s wife was unbelievable. Misty didn’t need any reminder about how long the husbands had been gone. Michael left the same time as the others, but was not coming back. At the end of March, Misty and I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, to spend some time with Arricca Reichle, the widow of the pilot who died with Michael. We wanted some answers. We went with Arricca to the Commander’s office and requested to meet with some of the troops who had been there the night Michael and Hal were killed. Misty and Arricca were able to ask them questions to try to get a clearer picture of what had happened. As far as they could tell, the troops said problems arose on their return from the reconnaissance mission. The crash happened sixty-five miles inside Iraq, not on the Saudi-Iraqi border as was first reported. They had completed their mission and were headed back to Saudi Arabia when they ran into a dense fog. Simultaneously, strong winds were blowing, creating a sandstorm. Michael and Hal may have had problems navigating due to the wind, fog and sand, and no visibility. One of the Apache helicopter pilots told us that in Hal’s last radio transmission, he radioed in saying, “We can’t see your tail lights. We’re losing you……we’ve lost you.” Then, there was nothing but static. Only Michael, Hal and God could know for sure what had happened. No rescue mission was possible until the weather cleared up a day later. The pilot of the “Huey” chopper, who was in charge of the search and rescue mission cried as he described how he had taken a couple of new medic recruits with him. The site of the wreckage was so traumatic for them, the new recruits laid down their weapons and walked around in a daze, so the pilot had to sedate them and recover the bodies himself. He told how he had personally lifted Michael and Hal from the wreckage and carried them into the rescue helicopter to begin the lengthy process of sending them home. He assured Misty and Arricca that the G-force of the crash was so great, it would certainly have caused instantaneous death for Michael and Hal. We left this meeting, at least knowing a little more than we knew before.
On April 23, 1991, Misty and I flew from Rapid City back to Leavenworth, Kansas. The 24th would have been Misty and Michael’s first wedding anniversary. She bought a dozen red sweetheart roses and one single red rose and took them to his gravesite. “Take a picture of me, Mom,” she requested, as she stood with the flowers beside Michael’s grave.” I raised the camera and tried to focus for the picture, but was overcome by my tears and the poignancy of the picture impacted me. This was not the way I hoped my daughter would be spending her first wedding anniversary. I finally took the picture, then went back to the edge of the cemetery to give Misty some time with Michael. I sat on the grass and cried. After about fifteen minutes or so, Misty called out to me. I went back to stand beside her and she told me she sat down, crying uncontrollably at first. Then, calmness engulfed her. She felt that Michael was at peace.
May 9, 1991
Misty and I sat in my living room, looking at pictures of her and Michael and talking about all that we had been through since Michael was deployed. It had been almost three months since he was killed. As we turned the pages of the photo album, Misty looked at me, wide-eyed, and exclaimed, “I smell roses!” At that moment, I smelled them, too. The smell of roses surrounded us for just a few moments. Then, it was gone.
June 1, 1991
Ten months had gone by since Michael was deployed. My niece Angela was finally coming home from Saudi Arabia. It was an emotional event to plan for. We sent two family members off to war. One survived and one was lost forever. We scheduled a welcome home reception at a local hotel. Though we had a large turnout, unfortunately, our guest of honor was not able to attend. Her flight in from Chicago was delayed and she would not arrive until much later in the evening. We were not able to officially welcome her home until we saw her several days later.
June 8, 1991
Misty received a formal invitation from the No Greater Love Foundation out of Washington, DC to attend the Victory Celebration of all the American troops returning from Desert Storm. She was able to take two guests with her, so she invited me and my sister Debbie to attend the celebration. There, we met other widows and family members of other troops killed in the war. At the Victory Parade, we watched with lumps in our throats, full of pride as our returned troops marched past us – and with renewed pain, as Michael’s unit’s helicopters flew past, overhead.
The memorial service held in the rotunda of Arlington National Cemetery was poignant for all of us and was attended by President and Mrs. George Bush, General and Mrs. Norman Swartzkopf, General and Mrs. Colin Powell, the Ambassador from Kuwait and the Prince of Saudi Arabia. At the end of the service, there were tears throughout the crowd as our fine Air Force B-1 fighters flew overhead in the Missing Man formation, signifying the losses of our troops who had made the ultimate sacrifice.
July, 1991
The 50th Anniversary of Mount Rushmore National Memorial was publicized and the entire Black Hills region was full of anticipation. President George Bush was scheduled to attend the celebration on the 4th of July. Since it is a Lakota custom to present gifts to our guests, I wrote to President Bush commending him for his performance as our Commander In Chief during the Persian Gulf War, and requested permission for Misty to meet with him at Mount Rushmore to make a presentation of gifts from our family. I explained the reasons for my request; that I felt Misty deserved the honor of making the presentation as the only Gulf War Widow from the State of South Dakota. I copied my request to South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler, who was quick to respond that he would do everything he could to help make our presentation possible. The week before the celebration, I received a telephone call from the White House, instructing me where to go to obtain our official Staff Pass for our car in order to take Misty to meet the President. On July 4, 1991 in full traditional regalia, Misty met President and Mrs. George Bush at Mount Rushmore and presented them with the Oglala Sioux Tribal Flag, a star quilt with an eagle standing on a peace pipe (signifying America at Peace) and some beadwork.
Several months later, Senator Larry Pressler wrote to me to inform me that my letter to the President was presented to Congress and was voted in as a permanent part of Congressional Record.
August, 1991
Our family was invited to attend a secondary Victory Celebration in the city of Dallas, Texas. Our host this time was Ross Perot. Again, we went to participate in a celebration of the return of our troops and met other family members; survivors of Gulf War casualties.
February, 1992
It was a year since Michael was killed. Misty received an invitation from the No Greater Love Foundation to attend a Desert Storm Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. We attended this Memorial which included the planting of a memorial tree in tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Desert Storm.
April, 1993
The invitation read, “The people of Kuwait would like to express their gratitude to you, first-hand, for the sacrifice of your loved one made for the liberation of Kuwait.” In April of 1993, I flew with Misty and an entourage of 196 other family members to visit the people of Kuwait, a journey officially named “Desert Peace.” After eight hours from New York to London and another eight hours from London to Kuwait City, we arrived. We were greeted with a red carpet, laid from the entrance of the terminal door down the stairs to the reception. As we deplaned and walked down the carpet, we were greeted by Kuwaiti people, waving the American Flag and the Kuwaiti Flag, tears streaming down their faces, as they applauded. The little children in the group clapped their hands and cheered, “USA, USA, USA, Kuwait!! USA, USA, USA, Kuwait!!” One woman came up to us and embraced us both. “Thank you,” she said. “There is no way we can ever tell you how grateful we are to the American people. You gave us back our country; you gave us back our lives and our freedom. Thank you for the sacrifice of your loved one.” The entire reception room was filled with people embracing and crying together. Many of the Kuwaiti’s wore buttons on their clothing, bearing the pictures of their own family members who had died in the war. We spent one whole week with the people of Kuwait and met twenty-seven other American “Gulf War Widows” and numerous other family members who had lost their loved ones. Our visit included a dinner at the palace with the Crowned Prince and Royal Family of Kuwait where we presented the Royal family with an Oglala Sioux flag and a letter of thanks from our Tribal President.
Reflecting back on our trip after our return home, Misty spoke to me about our emotional experiences in Kuwait. “Michael would have been proud to know that his part in Desert Storm impacted so many lives. He gave his life so those kids could have their lives.”
It has been fifteen years since the Gulf War. Since then, 9/11 and the attack on our World Trade Center has happened. The United States invaded Iraq and Saddam Hussein is in custody, on trial for his crimes against humanity. I admit a certain sense of glory and satisfaction when I heard the news that he’d been captured. He’s the reason why Michael went to war. Fifteen years have passed and still, every time I hear about Kuwait and every time I hear Bette Midler singing “Wind Beneath My Wings” on the radio, the waves of grief wash over me again, and a lump forms in my throat. This song has since been dubbed “Michael’s Song” by me and my family members. Looking back, I am still amazed at the strength shown by my daughter Misty, as she survived the horrible loss of her husband and as she continues to move on with her life. As I remember the events that occurred, I realize just how numb we all were throughout the entire experience. I truly believe that God does that on purpose when we experience a tragedy that traumatizes us so….He numbs us, so we won’t have to feel all of the pain, because He knows we could not handle all of the pain.
As time began to pass, I looked back on the Gulf War and tried to remember some things that happened and realized I had better write it down, or I might forget. The events I originally wrote down in bits and pieces are put together to make this story, a story I feel is worth sharing. For we, as Americans, live in the land of the free. And the freedom we enjoy was won by many, who just like Michael and Hal, did what my daughter Misty called “the most honorable thing any American could ever do.” They gave their lives for their country.
For Many people, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm are just a part of history. They heard, they watched, and now, for them it is all over. For those of us who had family members and friends over there, and for those of us who lost our loved ones, it will never really be over. As we put the pieces of our lives back together and carried on, to this day we are mindful of the fact that our plans must be carried out without the presence of those we loved and lost. God bless our heroes. We miss them and we will never forget them.
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13