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Florida cities host rallies to support U.S. troops

Thousands turn out in Orlando and Pensacola, many of them angry at recent anti-war protests.

©Associated Press
February 23, 2003

ORLANDO -- American flags snapped in the wind and vocal praise for President Bush filled the air Saturday as thousands of Floridians rallied in support of U.S. troops as they prepare for a possible war against Iraq.

About 2,000 people turned out in Orlando to hear songs and speeches, including the Gettysburg Address, while another 1,000 prayed and marched in Pensacola. The day's events began in Miami with the Tribute to the Military 5K Run.

In Pensacola, Navy Warrant Officer David Wolff, a veteran of the Gulf War, arrived in full uniform with his wife. He said the event would give soldiers readying for war a needed boost, much like the yellow ribbons he received from Americans during the Gulf War.

"I was so saddened to see so many in our nation not supporting our troop and our country during (last Sunday's) anti-war protests. It was really upsetting," Wolff said. "This is great. This is very uplifting."

Anger against last week's protests, which drew hundreds of thousands worldwide, was apparent in the speakers' words and attendees' signs. Echoing a slogan from the 1960s, one placard read: "America -- Love It or Leave It."

"The anti-war protesters last weekend are aiding and abetting Saddam (Hussein, Iraq's president)," said Sherri Tabb, a 37-year-old homemaker from Osteen. "Saddam has gotten emboldened, he is not cooperating. War is the only solution."

Not all participants advocated war.

"I'm here because I love America," said Vince Chandler, a 59-year-old banker and Air Force veteran. "I support the president, the troops. If the world shows determination against (Hussein's regime), they will leave; I prefer not to go in."

Another target was France, which has stood in the way of a U.N. resolution authorizing force against Iraq. "Use your emergency duct tape to gag (French President) Jacques Chirac," said one sign.

Standing out in the sea of red, white and blue at the Orlando rally was the Israeli flag carried by Jason Hoffman. The 33-year-old Internet consultant noted that Israel air force planes, one flown by future Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. The raid received harsh criticism from the global community.

"What Israel did 22 years ago has made it much safer world now," Hoffman said, "and our troops are not facing a nuclear-armed Saddam."

The Pensacola rally was a grass-roots effort coordinated by Milton resident Sam Mullins, while the Orlando event was put on by the talk-radio station WFLA-AM.

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