In part two of our serial, we examine the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and the adventures of WAGA’s two-man crew sent to cover it. Ten years ago, Eddie Cortes and I found ourselves in Kuwait City, trying to get to the front lines of Operation Enduring Freedom. If you missed part one, it’s here.
The Kuwait Hilton had a lovely view of the Persian Gulf and was lousy with reporters. Some of them were wearing hilariously serious custom-made camo gear with their names embroidered on their chests in English and Arabic. Many of them talked excitedly about the upcoming invasion as if it was a fait accompli. I still naively hoped otherwise. My parents, Quaker pacifists, were horrified by my assignment.
The hotel had one room left, a wildly expensive villa that slept eight. We’d traveled with a reporter and photographer from the Savannah Morning News who also needed lodging. At the front desk, we met a French reporter from Le Monde. “Want to share the villa?” he asked, an introductory line that took me aback. The five of us grabbed the room. Yves Eudes became the one guy we saw from the start to finish of our adventure.
We spent three or four nights at the hotel, a curious transition to life in the Middle East. Kuwait is a dry country, so there was no booze. I developed a taste for the stringy beef bacon served at breakfast. I wore running gear and did laps around the hotel property, and grew accustomed to seeing guys in camo uniforms carrying automatic weapons.
“It was not uncommon to be in the elevator with Dan Rather or to have breakfast at the table next to Ted Koppel” at the hotel, Eddie writes now. “I remember gas mask training on the tennis courts and evacuation drills. I remember how discussions about chemical weapons and scud missiles felt ominous.
“There is one memory from my time at the Kuwait Hilton that has stuck with me, replaying in my head for years as either an homage to a good man or penance of missed opportunity. I remember seeing David Bloom in the lobby of the Kuwait Hilton.
“Fifteen years earlier, as a young photographer in Miami Florida, I worked briefly with David Bloom. When I say ‘I worked with him’ I mean I shot one stand up for him while his photographer ran to get a battery. I gave him the tape and he said thanks and that was that. His talent was clear even then, NBC’s golden boy destined for great things.
“When I saw him in Kuwait, I knew he wouldn’t remember me. But we knew the same people back in Miami and I wanted to chew the fat with David Bloom. I walked over to him. He looked at me and nodded, and as I was about to speak to him his producer came over with something that needed his attention. Rather than waiting, I decided he’s busy I’ll catch up to him later and that was it.
“Then the war started and we all went to play in the sand. David Bloom died a few days later of a pulmonary embolism. I have always regretted not talking to him that day in the lobby of Kuwait Hilton.”