Eleven years ago today, on March 19, 2003, U. S. and coalition forces initiated Operation Iraqi Freedom with bombing strikes on Baghdad. Army engineer Mike Peloquin was among the first troops to enter the country, moving heavy equipment ahead of the main force to make a passable route for the thousands of vehicles that would follow. Then, on May 2, he wrote “greetings from Baghdad” (from Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace, no less) to Roland and Mary Frances Willock of Bowling Green. Using recovered Iraqi Republican Guard stationery, Peloquin described his experiences in detail–the massive assembly of tanks and armored vehicles, “our first tragedy” after a soldier died in a collision, a missile attack that left him “leery of … the sound of an unexpected detonation,” and the looming tasks of maintaining order and restoring services to Baghdad’s six million people. A peculiar challenge was dealing with the city’s animal population. “Lions are a big thing here,” he wrote, and “one of Saddam’s sons has three in the palace next door.” Other animals had to be sacrificed to feed them, but a few of the lions themselves were shot when Iraqis allowed them to escape their cages.
Realizing the historical value of accounts like Peloquin’s, Pat Hodges, then the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives Coordinator at WKU’s Special Collections Library, began soliciting more contributions of letters, e-mails, diaries, photos and other materials documenting participation in the conflict by Kentuckians and others. After spreading the word through media outlets across the state, Mrs. Hodges was contacted by National Public Radio and gave an interview about the project to Neal Conan’s Talk of the Nation program. As a result, more materials began to come in from soldiers like Paul Ratchford, spouses like Michelle Hale, and civilians like William “Buster” Tate, all of whom experienced the war in different ways. The outreach even secured some collections of letters from other wars.
Click here and here to learn more about the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collecting project on Operation Iraqi Freedom. To access finding aids for other collections relating to the Iraq War, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.