Crowds gather across U.S. to rally for troops

/ Source: The Associated Press

With a son-in-law in Iraq and a son who served in Afghanistan, Kathy Johnston says she wants to make sure her five grandchildren know it’s important to support U.S. troops, no matter how they feel about the war.

That’s why she, her daughter and daughter-in-law took them Saturday afternoon to the Oklahoma version of Operation America Rising, a nationwide event touted as a nonpartisan way to express appreciation for the job that U.S. soldiers are doing.

“Her husband wants to be here (at home),” Johnston said, motioning toward her daughter-in-law, Melissa Morning of Fort Bragg, N.C. “But he knows what he is doing is right.

“There is a lot of good going on over there, and we hear about it firsthand, even if the media doesn’t report it,” she added.

The rallies — some numbering in the hundreds, others with a handful in attendance — took place from California to Connecticut.

‘It has nothing to do with war’
The Oklahoma event, held at State Capitol Park, included three speakers and six bands. All the participants offered their services for free, said Ren Schuffman, the lead singer for Oklahoma City band StoneWater and one of the event’s organizers.

“It’s not anti-war. It’s not pro-war,” Schuffman said. “It has nothing to do with war.”

In New Hampshire, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and his rock band, Capitol Offense, entertained 600 to 700 people beforehand, event organizer Jennifer Horn said.

“Good people can disagree about policy and politics, but ... when we have children or neighbors or co-workers who are serving in active duty, we stand united behind them,” Horn said. “We don’t ever want there to be any misunderstanding that as Americans we are a united nation.”

In Bristol, Conn., several hundred people milled under tents, ate picnic food and listened to bands on a school lawn. In Sacramento, Calif. about 600 people, including 16 military and veterans groups, gathered near the state Capitol, event organizers said.

Harleys and speeches
Hundreds of motorcycle riders from a group of Harley-Davidson owners roared past the city hall in Dover, Del., carrying American flags.

At least 100 people gathered in Baton Rouge, La., next to the plaza where the battleship museum USS Kidd is docked. Organizer Janet Broussard described it as “speeches, music; just a good-time kind of get-together visit with our veterans.”

The names of the 182 Pennsylvania service members who died fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan were read aloud to a silent crowd in Ford City, Pa. The Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guard then fired a 21-gun salute.

Speakers told the crowd that they can support the troops in tangible ways. Navy Warrant Officer Willie Grier, who served in Iraq, said troops look forward to getting packages containing everything from baby wipes and candy to paper and pens.

“Nothing goes wasted over there,” Grier said. “If we do have an abundance of stuff, we’ll give some of it to the Iraqis, the children. It’s great for morale.”

In Colorado, Douglas County sheriff’s officials estimated 60 people attended a four-hour event at a park south of Denver, with musicians and speakers.

“One of best things about the event, even though it didn’t turn out as big as I would’ve liked, is the people who were there were genuine and care more about supporting our troops and being there for others than they do about their own comforts,” said Robyn Hill, 44.