Veterans Support Troops At State Capitol Rally

Saturday, February 17th 2007, 2:16 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Waving American flags and voicing patriotic zeal, hundreds of veterans rallied at the state Capitol Saturday to express support for U.S. troops in Iraq and urge Congress not to withdraw from the war that organizers said can still be won.

"It's time America found its spine," said retired Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell, chairman of Vets for Victory. Russell's unit played a key role in the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on Dec. 13, 2003.

"The biggest mistakes being made in this war are on the homefront, not the battlefront. We can win this war," Russell said.

About 700 veterans, many carrying signs that read "Iraq: In It to Win It" and "We Won't Betray Our Troops," rallied a day after the Democrat-controlled U.S. House passed a nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush's plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq.

"To come home to a patriotic rally after the week I've had in Washington, D.C.," mused Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., who voted against the resolution. Fallin said the resolution "sends a strong signal of weakness" to Iraqi insurgents.

"Congress can play an unintended role in losing wars," Fallin said. "Failure of the U.S. in the war on terror is not an option."

Russell said the resolution represents a "double-minded waging of war."

"If this is the kind of troop support that opponents of this war can offer, we reject it," Russell said, drawing shouts of approval from the crowd.

"Our enemies seek jihad and enslavement of innocents. That is the tap root of terrorism," Russell said. "We must face our enemies and make no apologies when defending freedom."

Among the crowd were six members of Oklahoma Veterans for Peace, who support immediate reductions in the number of troops serving in Iraq.

A member of the group, Marine Corps veteran Jon Cantrell, described the rally's mood as "hate mongering, war mongering."

"I was very disturbed," Cantrell said. "I would want them to think a little bit more about espousing nationalistic rhetoric."

Cantrell said most members of the group left after Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers stopped them from displaying signs expressing opposition to the Iraqi conflict. He said troopers apparently were concerned their message might anger others at the rally.

Kevin Pannell of Hot Springs, Ark., who lost both of his legs in a grenade ambush while serving as an infantry soldier in Iraq in 2004, said lack of support by the nation's leaders is felt by troops in the field.

"This is a war that cannot be won -- what kind of message is that?" Pannell said. "This can be a morale killer."

Pannell recalled the flag-waving patriotism that swept the nation following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that became the launching point for U.S. conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Where have all those flags gone now?" he said.

"Right here!" someone in the crowd shouted back, prompting cheers and applause from other veterans.

"It's good to see them," Pannell said.

Among the crowd, veterans held banners and flags unfurled by a stiff north wind that memorialized the conflicts they were in, including Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"We're just here to support the troops -- and the mission," said Larry Stewart, an Oklahoma Air National Guard veteran. Vets for Victory plans more rallies across the nation that Stewart said will draw enthusiastic support.

"The silent majority is still out there," he said.

"There are millions of Americans who feel like we do. But our voices aren't being heard," Russell said.