Local reactions to war mixed

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

Veterans, protesters and other Juneau residents went to church, lit candles, talked politics and reflected on the first Gulf War as news of the United States' military action against Iraq spread through town.

Members of Juneau People for Peace and Justice congregated in a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Dimond Courthouse on Wednesday evening, holding banners and singing songs.

Gary Waid spent his evening at the vigil waving the same flag he carried with him when he served in the Vietnam war more than 30 years ago.

"I've been told that if I believe in peace, I'm somehow unpatriotic," Waid said. "I want people to know that I'm a Vietnam vet and I'm an American and I went to war for the Constitution a long time ago. The generation behind me is at war now, and I want to support them."

Most of the protesters at the vigil said they shared Waid's support for the U.S. troops. But they said they don't support the reason the soldiers are fighting.

"It's not that we're anti-American, it's just that we're not liking the decisions that are being made," said Peggy Metcalf.

Her husband, K.J. Metcalf, made the banner that presided over the vigil: "Bombs fall, people die. We grieve for our troops, Iraq, the world."

"The message is we're not all happy with what's going on," K.J. Metcalf said.

Four protesters spent the night at the vigil.

"I don't support the war. I don't support killing in any form," said Julie Sanbei today, after nearly 12 hours at the vigil.

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church was one of the churches holding services after the attack began. About 25 people gathered to light candles, pray and share scripture readings calling for peace.

Aaron Elmore said he attended the service because "there's nothing left to do. ... I'll be praying for everybody who hates us."

Bob Boatwright said he would pray for "our troops, our people and our leader."

At the Catholic Cathedral of the Nativity, more than 15 people gathered for the regularly planned Lenten evening vespers. Though several were unaware bombing had started, the Rev. Anastasius Iwuoha began his service with a prayer related to the war.

"We invite everybody to join in prayer for the situation, that God's will will prevail," he said.

Veterans groups had no rally Wednesday, but the Veterans of Foreign Wars are planning one soon to show support for service members stationed in the Middle East, according to VFW Post Commander Gerald Dorsher.

"I'm 100 percent behind the president," said Jim Ruotsala, a Korean War vet and commander of the American Legion in Juneau. "I feel it's something we should have done when we were involved in the Gulf War."

Dorsher, also a veteran of the Korean War, was up late Wednesday night watching America's progress in Iraq.

"Definitely after 9/11 our country sure has been threatened," Dorsher said.

Dorsher and Ruotsala believe Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are connected, and that Saddam was partially responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It's a Middle East type thing, Kadafi in Lybia, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein - all three hate America so they will be together," Ruotsala said.

Tim Armstrong, a Vietnam veteran and past commander of both Juneau's Veteran of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, said the American government probably knows more about the connection than it lets on, in order to protect intelligence sources.

Ruotsala and Dorsher said peace protesters were misguided.

"They have their rights but I think they are misinformed," Ruotsala said. "Nobody likes war. War is terrible. But there comes a point in humanity where somebody has to take care of somebody. Everybody knows that Saddam Hussein is a butcher."

The war sparked a local bar to ask a tenant to remove a sign some took to be against the war.

The sign, which said "God Bless America and Our Victims," was placed in a window above the Sandbar and Grill in support of Sept. 11 victims, said night bartender Carrie Onstott. It was removed after callers to a local radio program thought it expressed opposition to America's military action, which the bar supports, she said.

As residents expressed their views on the war, officials contemplated security measures.

Juneau Airport Security Coordinator Patti DeLaBruere said the Transportation Security Agency sent out minor security changes early Wednesday shortly after the nation went into high alert - and more are expected.

"We've increased patrols in front of the building and in the parking lot," she said. "We're also asking people to keep their eyes open for unattended bags and not to leave their bags unattended.

The airport is not experiencing any back-ups yet, but DeLaBruere said people should still arrive at least two hours early.

Capt. Jack Meyers, head of security with the Alaska Marine Highway System, reminded riders staff would be checking every passenger's photo ID.

"Mentally I think we're all in a heightened state of security and awareness," he said. "But we believe travel on ferries is still very safe and we will be working with due diligence to secure the area."

Reporters Christine Schmid, Julia O'Malley and Melanie Plenda contributed to this article.

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