It wouldn't sound like a Marine, but he had to say it.

``I'm getting ready to cry,' Lance Cpl. Billy Wilkinson said Monday night as he stood in the concourse at Piedmont Triad International Airport, 48 hours after departing Saudi Arabia.He and his wife, Michele, were hugging and kissing. His parents were fighting tears. His brothers and sisters and their kin kept looking in awe at the tanned, handsome young leatherneck with the white sidewall haircut.

He was fresh from the desert, still in camouflage, the only clothes he had to wear home.

The Red Cross had notified him that Michele accidentally had cut tendons in her hand and had undergone surgery. He was granted a 15-day emergency leave from his infantry unit, stationed since August near the Kuwait border. For the past two days he's been on airplanes trying to get to Greensboro.

``I'm in culture shock, seeing trees and green grass and people talking American,' said Wilkinson, 20, whose parents, Bob and Kathy Wilkinson, live in Belews Creek, and whose in-laws, Jim and Katherine Wiglesworth, live in Greensboro.

Surprisingly, the 58-degree reading Monday night in Greensboro didn't have him shivering. Things have cooled off lately in Saudi Arabia, he said. It was only 95 degrees when he left.

``When I got to Saudi Arabia on Aug. 23 - I was in the first Marine unit to get there - it was 130 degrees,' he said.

The rifle barrels got so hot in the sun he and his buddies had to wrap them in rags to cool them.

But now he's used to the climate. In the heat of the day, he and his buddies strip down to their shorts and play beach volleyball - without the beach.

Once, on maneuvers, he got close enough to the Kuwait border to see patrolling Iraqi troops in the distance.

He said he and his fellow Marines are ready to meet them more close-up.

``Personally, I think we ought to go in and get this over with, so all of us young men can go home,' he said. ``This sitting and waiting is ridiculous.'

Wilkinson, who joined the Marines not long after graduating from Winston-Salem's Carver High School, declined to use the word ``boring' to describe the daily routine in the big sandpile: Eating chow from portable mess kitchens, cleaning gear, going through preparedness drills.

``Monotonous would be a better word,' he said. ``I don't get bored being a Marine. I'm proud of that.'

And gung-ho Marines don't need a lot of explanation about why they are where they are at, as they would say in the corps.

``I'm over there to free Kuwait,' Wilkinson said.

He has spent as long as 45 days out in the desert without returning to the base. A change of clothes might come only once a week. Four days between showers is common.

``You say you are walking home?' his father interrupted. ``Four days without a bath - forget it.'

Yeah, Wilkinson's buddies sure were envious when he waved goodbye to them and headed back to the states. They want him to bring back something to drink, meaning alcohol, but that's impossible.

``Saudi Arabia is the best AA program in the world,' he said of the teetotaling Islamic nation. ``It's the best savings program in the world. It's the best ... '

He didn't finish. He tapped his wife's arm cast a few times, gave her another kiss, then slowly signed the cast with a felt pen.

``I love you,' he wrote.

He and Michele then left for their apartment in Greensboro. They were married in June. He was gone by August.

Besides his wife and family, he says what he misses the most is his pickup truck. He wishes he could fill it up with some of that 50-cents-a-gallon Saudi gasoline.

He's looking forward to 15 days of cruising around in the truck with Michele.

He'll be thinking of his buddies over there, though. If war must break out, he said, he hopes it waits until he get backs to Saudi Arabia.

``That's my job,' he said. ``I would feel I'd be letting the guys down over there if I wasn't there.'

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

Load comments