Sunday, March 30, 2003

Unsilent majority

Batavia to troops: 'USA'


Two guys with long hair, wearing green camouflage over blue jeans, held signs on the corner of Second and Main. I thought they were anti-war protesters. But I was as wrong as the Dixie Chicks singing "God Bless America."

"I support the troops 100 percent," said Dewey Elam of New Richmond, holding a sign that said, "We Support the War."

His friend Jerry Gaghan waved a "Bomb Saddam" poster.

Batavia, population 1,700 people and three stoplights, was invaded by 1,000 visitors Tuesday night for a "Support Our Troops" rally. But there were no anti-war protesters here in Smalltown, U.S.A.

"I was told by the police chief that one antiwar protester showed up, took a look at the crowd and left," said Batavia Village Administrator Bob Stewart.

Not warmongers

In the cities, noisy protesters draw cameras the way Saddam attracts smart bombs. But in the heartland, many have sons, daughters, nephews and husbands in Iraq. They don't need a calculator to do the moral math.

"We're not warmongers," said Winston Lawson, 61, a Marine veteran of Da Nang in 1965. "Some things just have to be done."

Bob and Joyce St. Louis of Union Township had a one-word reason to be there: patriotism.

Dale Raming said, "I would prefer my son be over there fighting than down on Fountain Square protesting."

"God Bless Bush," the signs said. "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Those That Threaten Them." "Real Americans Support Our Troops."

It was a scene that would give antiwar liberals a month of cold sweats. There were little girls with flags in their ponytails. Lusty chants of "USA! USA!" A thousand voices saying the Pledge of Allegiance together, hats off, hands over hearts, cranking up the volume to underline "UNDER GOD."

He did himself proud

The rally was organized by Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud; his name couldn't fit better if he were "Joe Patriot."

I swallowed my reporter's cynicism along with a lump in my throat as I watched kids like 13-year-old Jeff Belt of Felicity watching with wide eyes, "to see how people feel about this."

Across the sea of waving flags and pumping fists, one still, bare white arm held up a framed portrait of a young sailor, and the soft singing of the "Star Spangled Banner" had new meaning.

The police chief estimated that 500 people were gathered in the old 1912 Armory where so many men have gone to war, and another 500 stood outside.

"I'm here because when I was 4 years old, my dad came home from Guadalcanal and he was asked why he fought," said Teddi Blinkhorn of Milford. "He put his hand on my shoulder and said, `I fought for the little ones like this.' "

At the end, the crowd sang the "Battle Hymn of the Republic":

"As He died to make men holy, we will live to make men free "

I walked out into the rain and thought, "Thank you, Batavia."

It was a good night for America.

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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