The sky was gray and threatened to storm, but that didn't deter hundreds of Juneau residents from gathering outside the state Capitol Friday for a rally in support of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.
They waved flags and wore red, white and blue. Their signs read "These colors don't run," "Support President Bush and our troops," "Give peace a chance, get rid of Saddam," "You don't have to agree with our government to support our troops."
About 250 of Alaska's reserve troops have been called up for active duty, and more Alaskans serve in military units based all over the country.
The rally, organized by Rep. Bob Lynn, an Eagle River Republican, drew more than 300 people of all ages. Men removed their hats and women and children joined in the singing of the national anthem, hands over hearts. Legislators standing on the Capitol steps waved red carnations as a five-person bagpipe and drum corps played. Rev. Thomas Moffatt, an Eagle River Antiochian Orthodox priest and member of Lynn's staff, led a prayer for the safety of soldiers, the welfare of the Iraqi people, and a quick end to the war.
A couple of dozen legislators were present, as were Gov. Frank Murkowski, Lt. Gov. Loren Leman and Juneau Mayor Sally Smith. Anchorage Reps. Nancy Dahlstrom, a Republican, and Rep. Max Gruenberg, a Democrat, also spoke.
There were no counter-protesters.
Murkowski noted about 65,000 veterans live in Alaska.
"We're the only state in the union with a growing veterans population," he said. "We must never forget them."
Lynn, a decorated Vietnam veteran and retired Air Force major, told the crowd that denouncing Bush is the same as denouncing the troops.
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse," he said, quoting 19th century English philosopher John Stuart Mill.
Lynn and other veterans told the cheering crowd that troop morale depends on support back home.
"If there's one thing I learned in Vietnam, there's only one thing more important than bullets and bombs in winning the war ... and that's morale," he said. "When a fighting man loses his morale, he can lose his life."
Later during the hour-long rally, Rep. Jim Holm, a Fairbanks Republican, led the crowd in singing "God Bless America."
Juneau school teacher Jodie Buck, 39, said she hopes rallies in support of the troops are publicized as much as anti-war rallies have been.
"I'm afraid the media gives a lot of attention to protests and that's very discouraging," she said. "The men and women serving in our armed forces are doing so because they love freedom, whether it's ours, or another country's."
Also in the crowd were many veterans, and families of soldiers currently in combat held signs with photos of their loved ones.
Dennis Anderson, 31, who served 10 years in the Navy, said the rally was needed to show support, but that there's nothing wrong with anti-war rallies.
"I served 10 years just so they can do it. The only thing I don't like is when they burn the flag," he said.
Bus driver Charles Renhard, 56, served three tours in Vietnam.
"There were no rallies of support like this. When we came home, most of us were mistreated. When the diplomatic efforts fail and the shooting starts, we have to support our troops," he said.
Masha Herbst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.