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Island rally supports troops
Mukilteo resident Ante Svircic has spent the past few years building his little piece of the American dream. The Croatian native is self-employed running an ultra-sonic blind cleaning business. On a day when millions of people worldwide came out to protest the possibility of war in Iraq, he decided to drive up to Oak Harbor with his wife, Lisa, to express his opinion about the United States.
"I'm sick and tired of listening to people talking against America and our troops," Svircic said.
Svircic joined approximately 500 people at a rally Saturday that was organized by the Republican party to show support for U.S. troops. People came from throughout the Puget Sound area to voice there support for the military.
Party officials decided to hold the rally in response to repeated anti-war protests, which many attending the rally saw as being critical of the military. One such protest rally was held last month in Oak Harbor.
Svircic's sentiments were echoed by others who also made the trip to participate in the rally.
"I'm tired of all the anti-war protesters getting all of the press. So when I heard about this I decided to come join," said Greg Hanson, a software engineer who drove over from Everett.
Nooksack resident Fred Hanko drove with his family down from Whatcom County, saying, "We would like to protest in favor of the troops and the country."
People gathered for the rally at Oak Harbor's City Beach Park. Officials had expected around 1,000 people to show up but attributed the lesser turnout to the wet, blustery conditions that dominated the day.
Supporters then marched to the corner of Highway 20 and Whidbey Avenue. During the eight-block trek, motorists were honking feverishly in support and others joined in the rally during the walk. When they arrived, rallygoers spent about a half hour at each of the corners. Waiting for them in one of the parking lots was a fire truck complete with flag-waving firefighters showing their support for the rally.
Oak Harbor wasn't the only place where people gathered in support of the military. Similar rallies were held near McChord Air Force Bace in Pierce County and at the Yakima Training Center near Selah.
However, those pro-military demonstrations were dwarfed by the numbers of people who came out to participate in peace demonstrations worldwide.
In Seattle, estimates vary between 15,000 and 20,000 people, while hundreds of thousands of people participated in similar protests throughout the country.
In Oak Harbor, any signs of a peace demonstration were absent during a day when the rally-goers spent part of the trip singinig "God Bless America" and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Several people who were waving flags in the rally were critical of the the protests that were taking place elsewhere.
"I think that it's important to stand up when all the freaks and geeks get the press," said Joe Hawkins, an Oak Harbor resident who recently retired from the Navy. He attended the rally waving a "Don't Tread on Me" flag.
He added that he was also out in support of his friends and former shipmates who are aboard the USS Carl Vinson.
Participants were waving signs such as "Home of the free because of the brave," and "Anti-war protests do not bring peace, we support our troops, our president and our country."
Others who attended the rally also advocated fast and swift action in the Middle East.
"The only thing that bothers me is that Bush has waited," said Coupeville resident Dennis Benson. "(Saddam Hussein) has been able to dig in and it's going to cost more lives."
Others in attendance expressed a similar sentiment. Anacortes resident Charrie Dyer spent the afternoon waving a "Free Iraq" sign. She decided to participate in the rally after recently watching a documentary on Iraq which convinced her Saddam has to be removed.
Others showed their support by donning their military uniforms.
"I'm here supporting my president and my country," said Oak Harbor resident Tom Spivey, a World War II veteran who arrived at the rally in his uniform. He fought in Europe and was awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
One person from Clinton said he wanted a little more company in showing support.
"I've been doing this every Saturday on the south end and wanted to do this in front of a bigger crowd," said Ladd Wilmuth, who was wearing and American-flag colored hardhat during Saturday's rally.
Andy Valrosa, chairman of the Island County Republican Party, said that he will continue to muster support for the military.
"If the anti-war movement continues to protest here, then we will show our support." Valrosa said. "We need to continue to support our troops."