The pastel hues of spring flowers unfurled under sunny skies were eclipsed in downtown Hood River on Saturday by the colors of red, white and blue.
Hundreds of American flags were either worn or waved by about 250 people gathered at noon in Overlook Memorial Park for a “Support Your Troops” rally.
“The symbol of the flag means a lot to all of us who are standing here right now,” said Dennis Leonard, commander of the American Legion which sponsored the event.
Leonard said respect was owed to the flag since it had been followed into battle by thousands of men and women who, throughout America’s history, had stepped forward to defend the ideals of freedom for which it stood.
“We need to be tolerant of people who have a different view than we have, but we need to remind them that this strip of cloth means something to somebody and it is going to mean a whole lot more when it’s draped over a coffin in days to come,” he said.
A prayer was said for the troops, following the playing of the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. Other patriotic songs, including “God Bless the U.S.A.,” by Lee Greenwood, were aired throughout the 60-minute program.
Some of the veterans and military families stood at the podium to express anger over the “desecration” of the flag in recent anti-war demonstrations in Portland.
“It makes me cry to see the flag burn, the anti-war demonstrators need to remember all the white crosses,” said Ken Moe of Parkdale, a Vietnam veteran.
He recounted tales of being spat upon, called a “baby killer” and feeling ashamed to tell people that he had been in military service when he returned home from that undeclared war.
“That is not going to happen here,” vowed Moe to the applause of the crowd.
In spite of law enforcement concerns that a conflict would arise between the troop rally and an anti-war demonstration that was taking place in the same location later that afternoon, there were no problems. On Friday the organizers of the parade, the Columbia River Fellowship for Peace, met with Police Chief Tony Dirks and decided to move their event back by one hour, from 1 to 2 p.m., to avoid any potential confrontation.
Although Dirks and a full contingent of city, county and state officers kept a watchful eye on both gatherings, they were relieved that the Constitutional right to a peaceable assembly was followed by all parties.
“We are very pleased that everyone was allowed the right to gather and express their views and I hope this level of cooperation and communication makes all future events go as smoothly,” said Dirks.
Numerous military families and veterans joined community members at the March 29 tribute to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces, especially the “heroes” on the front lines of the war in Iraq.
“We love our country and whether you agree with this President or not you need to support our troops, they are not political and they need to see images like this where we are behind them,” said Karen Smith of Trout Lake, Wash., who traveled to the event with her husband, Oregon National Guard Sgt. William Smith, who had just completed a field exercise. The Smiths also have two grown children, Joanna and David, serving in the National Guard.
Lynn Guenther, a retired colonel and decorated Vietnam veteran from Hood River, said the rally was the first he had ever attended. The former pilot who spent 15 months in the Hanoi Hilton as a prisoner of war, said he believed it was important for the nation to show a united front now that the fighting was underway in Iraq.
“Those who demonstrate against this war are seen by our troops because the enemy makes sure that they see the protests,” said Guenther. “If anyone thinks that they are aiding our troops or their families with these anti-war demonstrations they are sadly mistaken — the time to protest is before the first shot is fired.”
Leonard read the names off a roster of Oregon soldiers that were currently deployed in the Middle East. He reminded the audience that soldiers are in a hazardous profession and do not have to be in combat to face death. Therefore, he said they should be honored for their bravery, along with police and fire emergency responders who willingly risked their own lives whenever duty called.
Hood River County Commissioner Chair Rodger Schock initiated another round of applause when he said that the message, “Freedom isn’t free” that was scrolled on the Vietnam Veteran Memorial in the nation’s capital needed to always be remembered by all citizens.
“War is an ugly thing but the only thing uglier is the person who will not stand up for his brother, a person that will have to rely on someone better than himself,” said Larry Stanley of Hood River.