To Iraq and back for troops pride

Beverly Young's controversial T-shirt comes full circle.

Published August 11, 2006

TAMPA - Beverly Young pulled the shirt on and sniffed.

"Smells like Iraq," she said.

It was a touching reunion Thursday between a famous T-shirt and the wife of Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Shores.

In January, the message on the T-shirt - "Support the Troops -Defending Our Freedom" - sent the garment on an around the world adventure.

Capitol police viewed the shirt as a demonstration and ejected Young from President Bush's Jan. 31 State of the Union address.

"Shame, shame," a visibly angry Rep. Young declared the next day, brandishing his wife's long-sleeved, mostly cotton shirt on the floor of Congress. From Iraq, an Army captain, Stephen Jaksec of Tampa, saw the episode on the Internet.

He called hours later to praise her.

"He told me he was real proud of me for standing up for them," Young said. "I said, 'Honey, you're welcome to have that shirt.' So I sent it to Iraq."

Jaksec had his troops sign it in blue and red ink. The shirt accompanied the soldiers on raids and goodwill missions.

Just back from Iraq, Jaksec brought the shirt home. Before the monthly luncheon of the Military Officers Association of America on Thursday, he handed it to her.

"This is on behalf of me, and the 15 guys and the rest of our troop that didn't come back," Capt. Jaksec told her.

Before slipping the shirt on, Young wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the same message. Her daughter-in-law and granddaughter wore the same shirts. In all, Young said, she has more than 20 replicas of the T-shirt. She said she has them in assorted colors so people don't suspect she wears the same one.

The shirts are no strangers to ceremonies. In June, Young said she auctioned off one at a Washington dinner for $3,400. The money went to charity, she said.

Young's garment has had a more storied life than the other famous shirt that got the boot from the State of the Union address. Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan wore one that read: "2,245 dead. How many more?"

The whereabouts of that shirt are unknown. Sheehan couldn't be reached Thursday. Her father, her ex-husband and a spokeswoman said they didn't know what became of it.

Young plans to take her T-shirt to the Newseum Museum of News in Washington. She said it will be displayed as a violation of the First Amendment.

Elisabeth Dyer can be reached at edyer@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.