In their first public display since war in Iraq broke out, local veterans took to the steps of the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library Saturday to voice their support for U.S. troops abroad.
More than 100 veterans and a handful of students gathered to express support for U.S. troops and for President Bush. A smaller group of students, mostly from Anti-War Action! and the Radical Cheerleaders, turned out for a counter protest against the war.
Ken Rogge, spokesman for Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 310, said the rally did not necessarily express support for government policies.
“The military doesn’t necessarily want to go to war – they are doing this for the government,” he said. “We are doing this to support them. It doesn’t mean that we support the policies of the government.”
Referring to the crowd gathered to support U.S. troops in Iraq, Vietnam veteran and rally organizer Gary Lillie said, “There probably hasn’t been a sight like this on this campus since World War II.”
Rally sponsors provided cards to attendees who wanted to send messages of support to troops abroad. They also gave out dog tags commemorating the rally and asked for donations to help cover postage and personal hygiene items to send to troops.
Forrest Manley, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy, said morale boosts from home are critical for troops.
“It’s very important to the troops that they know we support them. Their lives are on the line,” he said. “Once the conflict starts, it’s strictly ‘let’s support the men and women over there and show them that we’re behind them.'”
Conflicts between supporters and anti-war protesters developed toward the end of the event, but quickly dissolved into small groups of students and veterans discussing their various viewpoints.
Department of Public Safety Sgt. Stacy Richmond said there were no incidents reported at the rally.
John Kinzinger, a Vietnam veteran and rally organizer, said he was a little nervous that violence might break out, but added he was relieved that no serious conflicts took place.
“I was a little concerned myself,” he said. “We were here to support the troops and not to support any personal agenda and that’s what happened – nothing happened.”
LSA sophomore Max Sussman, an Anti-War Action! member, said someone tore his sign up and threw it in his face. “I hope people continue to respect each other and not resort to violence in these situations,” he said. “If you’re pro-war you’re going to be more sympathetic to using aggressive means to prove your point on the personal level.”
LSA senior Gaurav Jashnani, an AWA! member, said he supported the troops but that he offered a different kind of support than the veterans.
“I can’t do anything in good conscience except ask that our troops please be brought home,” he said. “I don’t understand how anybody can be in support of our troops while simultaneously asking that they give their lives.”
The rally included the Pledge of Allegiance to an American flag held by members of Young Americans for Freedom.
Kinzinger gave a prayer during the rally, in which he asked that troops be given “compassion for enemies who also fight for patriotic causes.”