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Rallies salute troops

some protest Iraq war

April 20, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herlad-mail.com

Even if you oppose the war in Iraq and disagree with the positions of President Bush, you can and should still support U.S. troops, veteran Rusty Baker told a crowd of about 150 people in Hagerstown on Saturday.

Baker, commander of AMVETS Post 10, made his comments as part of the "Rally in Support of Our Troops" at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.

"We don't have to support the war, but we do have to support the troops," he said.

Residents supporting and opposing the war also made their views known at other events in the Tri-State area Saturday.

Baker served in Vietnam and clearly remembers how awkward and uncomfortable it was to come home to a nation divided over the war. He recalls strangers telling him he had fought in a pointless war. He does not want the same thing to troops fighting in Iraq.

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Baker said he hopes people can put their divisions aside so when the troops return home they can say, together, "Welcome home."

Rob Wheeler, a Pennsylvania peace activist who spoke at a Franklin County peace vigil Saturday, said he has seen nothing to suggest that anyone who opposes the war will treat veterans with anything but respect.

While he has seen great distrust of the Bush administration by peace activists, Wheeler does not think that will translate into disrespect of the troops, he said. Peace activists oppose the war, not the troops, said Wheeler, an organizer of the Carlisle Peace College.

Wheeler said about 15 people attended Saturday's peace vigil at the Chambersburg square, which had an Easter theme, "I stand with Jesus: No more war."

There was also a vigil on the square in Martinsburg on Saturday that took a different stance.

For about a month, a group called Proud Patriotic Americans has held a vigil each weekend to express support for the troops and to provide a response to anti-war protesters, said Jan Wilkinson, group president. The vigils will continue until the troops come home, she said.

Like Baker, members of Proud Patriotic Americans want to ensure there is not a reoccurrence of what happened when Vietnam veterans were not treated well upon returning home, she said.

Wilkinson said about 45 people, including members of her group, also participated in a rally in Martinsburg on Saturday expressing support for the troops.

At the Hagerstown rally, Washington County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer, a U.S. Navy veteran, also mentioned anti-war protesters.

"Most of us are quite disgusted by what I call the 'vocal minority' who say they support our troops but they don't support their presence in Iraq," Rohrer said. "To me, their conduct and their words are an oxymoron."

Richard Harnish of Hagerstown, a Korean War veteran who attended the rally, praised the event, but said he wished more people had turned out.

"I am heartsick and a little sad. There should have been 2,000 people here," he said.

But Baker said the important thing was not the number of attendees but that there was a noticeable level of patriotism and pride in the room indicating support for the troops now and when they return home.

William A. Sillery, commander of American Legion Post 42, offered a sobering reminder.

"The sad fact is not all will be happy homecomings. Some will be coming home in body bags, some will come back without all their body parts," he said.

Lt. Col. Roger Sencindiver, chief of staff for the 167th Airlift Wing of the Air National Guard based in Martinsburg, W.Va., thanked the Washington County community for its support of wing members.

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