It was as a young Marine embassy guard, besieged in Kuwait and held hostage in Baghdad, that Daniel Hudson truly began to learn how much human beings need each other.
North Platte’s police chief of seven months shared his experiences at the start of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War period on Thursday morning at the 55th annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast at Harvest Christian Fellowship.
The 1985 Hemingford High School graduate said he has seen a lifetime’s worth of “man’s inhumanity to man” by living through the aftermath of Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait and working gang-infested neighborhoods during his 26-year Los Angeles Police Department career.
“I think the greater thing we learn is that we as a society, we as people, we have to be better,” the retired LAPD lieutenant told an audience of about 100. “We have to take care of each other. We have to be there for our neighbor. We’ve lost that over time.”
Hudson, who turns 52 next month, said he’s always viewed the world “through the eyes of a 17-year-old from Hemingford, Nebraska” — even while he found himself in the midst of the largest U.S. military deployment since the Vietnam War.
Iraqi troops under the late dictator Saddam Hussein swiftly invaded and conquered neighboring Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, alleging the small but oil-rich emirate was undermining Arab oil markets.
A U.S.-led coalition began bombing Iraq in January 1991 and ejected Iraqi troops from Kuwait in late February. For Hudson, though, the war began when Saddam’s troops surrounded the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City the day of their invasion.
He had joined the Marines in 1986, after a year at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, Colorado, and was serving as an embassy security guard in Kuwait after holding a similar post in Tel Aviv, Israel.
“You got to wear blue uniforms and go all over the world,” Hudson said. “It seemed like a pretty good gig. ... It was the greatest job in the world, right up until Aug. 2, 1990.”
Rolling down Kuwait’s main superhighway, Saddam’s tanks faced no opposition until they reached Emir Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah’s palace 2½ blocks north of the embassy.
Kuwaiti troops “felt the Iraqis wouldn’t strike them out of fear of hitting the American embassy,” Hudson said. “I’m here to tell you: They were wrong.”
After witnessing a 4½-hour-long tank battle outside their gates, Hudson and four fellow Marine guards were trapped inside the 5-acre embassy compound with U.S. Ambassador Nathaniel Howell and about 100 other Americans.
With temperatures outside reaching 140 degrees, Iraq’s occupying forces cut off electricity and water. “We ran through our food rations awfully fast,” Hudson said.
But he learned his first leadership lessons directly from Howell, whom he had been personally assigned to guard. Though Howell suffered greatly from bleeding ulcers, he and Hudson jogged every day around the compound as a way of boosting morale.
“It was so important for his people, his staff and the Americans to see him and see everything was OK,” Hudson said. “Nobody knew how sick he was and what he was going through.”
Howell and his immediate diplomatic staff would defiantly remain in the Kuwait City embassy until the last Americans left Kuwait and Iraq in mid-December.
But most of the besieged Americans, including Hudson and his fellow Marines, departed Aug. 23 after U.S. and Iraqi officials struck a deal allowing them to leave.
But the flight out of Kuwait took them to Baghdad. Though the women and children were released after three days, Hudson said, the Marine guards were effectively held hostage within Iraq’s U.S. Embassy for 133 days.
There was one bright side for him: He met his future wife, Geri, an Irish nurse working under contract at a Baghdad hospital where the detained Americans were taken for medical treatment. He and Geri, who also was briefly kept from leaving Iraq, stayed in touch and married in October 1994.
It was after the American women and children were allowed to go home, Hudson said, that he witnessed “the entire demeanor change” among him and his Marine comrades.
“What we found was it was about men taking care of men,” he told the prayer breakfast audience. “We learned it was OK to cry. I think too often there’s so much ‘You gotta to be macho all the time.’”
Because they see the worst of humanity, Hudson said, military members and law enforcement officers especially need permission to take care of themselves as well as others. Eighty-four U.S. police officers killed themselves during the first three months of 2019, he said.
Hudson remembers one August while serving with LAPD’s gang unit in which 42 people were murdered and “countless people” shot in the Watts neighborhood, the site of deadly race riots in 1965.
“You’d look down at somebody, and they’re looking up at you and half their face is missing,” Hudson said. “Those all wear on us. We have to find the humanity, the humility, to go to your brother, go to your sister, and say, ‘Are you OK? Are you all right?’ And we don’t do that very well.”
At a time when Americans are increasingly dividing themselves from each other, the chief said, “we need to work on ourselves being closer to God and being more Christian-like and more understanding and more sympathetic and more pathetic.”
Hudson thanked Mayor Dwight Livingston, who sat next to him throughout his speech, and the North Platte community for enabling him, Geri and their daughter Riley to come back to Nebraska. Son Ryan is in the U.S. Navy.
“I love the fact that I’ve come home to Nebraska. I love being in Nebraska,” he said. “I’m a Nebraska kid. California was great to us. For 26 years, it gave us experiences, it gave us opportunities, it gave us things that shaped our lives. But this place is where we want to be.”