- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 14, 2004

Undaunted by blustery March winds, a small-but-determined group rallied on the Mall yesterday to cheer and show support for American troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and trouble spots around the world.

The two-hour “Support Our Troops Rally” began at noon and drew about 50 people. The group waved American flags and listened to a series of short speeches by representatives of groups such as the Blue Star Mothers of America Inc., the sponsor of the rally, Rolling Thunder, Free Iraq, the Congress of Racial Equality, the D.C. Chapter of Free Republic and Operation Free Spike Inc.

“I think Americans need to stand tall for our principles and freedom and honor our children who are making sure that our country remains safe and free,” said Susan Naill, president of Blue Star Mothers of America.

Ms. Naill said her Marine son served in the first Persian Gulf war and she comes from “a long line of warriors.” A rally to show support was needed, she said.

Kerri Whalen agreed. Mrs. Whalen, a Blue Star Mother from Chesapeake, Va., said it was important for her to attend the rally. Her son joined the Army and was in Iraq for eight months. He was stationed in Germany for four years, she said.

“A lot of guys don’t have any support and the nation needs to rally — regardless of their feelings about the war — and support the troops,” she said.

Kristinn Taylor, co-founder of the Washington, D.C., Chapter of Free Republic, moderated the event and introduced the speakers.

Former Kansas Republican senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole chatted with a few Blue Star moms and posed with families and children for photographs.

“I want to thank those who continue to stand up for our troops … 80 to 90 percent of Americans support our troops. I’ve talked with a lot of people as I’ve travel around,” Mr. Dole told the group.

“We have made a difference in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not perfect, but neither are we. I want to thank the Blue Star Mothers. Mothers carry a heavy burden,” he said before the women surrounded him with requests for photos.

The group cheered when Arthur Foss, president of Rolling Thunder Virginia Chapter No. 3, stepped up to the microphone on the small staging area sounded by American flags. He joked a bit before getting down to business.

“Is it warm enough out here for you?” he asked in mid-40s degree weather that felt much colder in the gusting wind.

“It’s great to be here to support the Blue Star Mothers, and it’s great to be here to support our troops,” Mr. Foss said. “Today, we are assembled here representing a special group of individuals, an elite group of people, I might add, that of the American veteran, their status, their well-being, their accountability — for without the veteran, we would not be here today.”

“The veteran is the reason for this great country of ours, and the liberties and the freedoms that we enjoy. Without the veteran, we would have nothing. American warriors of yesterday and today have never failed to answer their nation’s call. Through selfless sacrifices, they have brought to the entire world a concept most often associated with America’s ideal … freedom,” he said.

Niger Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality flew to Washington from New York yesterday morning for the rally to show his support for U.S. troops and the organizers.

“I’m so pleased to be here with my friends, my brothers and sisters of the Blue Star Mothers, Free Republic and Rolling Thunder,” he said. “This is an important time for our country and our world. We are engaged in a global war. A war as profound as World War I, World War II and the Cold War … ambiguous and difficult to fight. It is a war in which three dozen nations are standing beside us, including our brothers and sisters in Spain.

“It is a war being fought by a variety of Americans in our armed forces … fighting for liberty, fighting for our country, fighting for our civilization.”

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