By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
More than 100 people gathered in Havre for a rally this morning to show support for U.S. troops in Iraq.
The mostly adult group, which included several veterans in uniform, formed a circle in the chilly breeze about 7 a.m. as Havre Mayor Bob Rice called the names of 23 area soldiers. For every soldier, a family member stepped forward to receive a cardboard sign with the soldier's name and rank. For soldiers who did not have a family member there, a community member stepped forward for them. Soon signs lined the circle.
Rice then asked for the names of any soldiers who had not been acknowledged, and someone raised a hand and called a name and rank. And another. And another.
Ten more names were spoken, but the list seemed to go on for a long time.
"We know you're there, kids; we're here for you," said Rice, who had two people film the rally, and plans to send copies of the tape to each of the area soldiers next week.
"Bryce! That's my best friend's big brother," Havre High junior Kimberly Bryson, 16, whispered to classmate Catlin Anderson, 16, as she pointed across the circle to the the sign for Army Sgt. Bryce Dochterman.
The girls said they are both entering the military when they graduate in 2004.
"I have a lot of friends who are in the Army or Air Force," said Anderson, who says she will join the Army. "I just want to let them know that I support them and I love them, and I don't want them to get hurt in any way."
Bryson, who lives in Chinook, said she had many family members involved in the war effort, including a cousin and two uncles. She plans to join ROTC after she graduates.
After the short ceremony, held on a lawn at the corner of Fifth Street and Fifth Avenue, the crowd broke into small groups of twos and threes chatting in subdued tones. About 120 small American flags were passed out during the rally, and several drivers honked their horns as they passed by.
Vietnam veteran Kenneth Kooch, 61, of Havre attended the rally to support his son, Gregory Kooch, who is in Virginia after returning from Bahrain on a Navy mission.
"I can relate to what he's doing very well," Kooch said. "I'm proud of him."
Kooch said he knows from experience that "It's encouraging when you're over there away from home and have people there to support you."
Havre resident Robert Berg, 62, has a son, Robert, who flies in combat helicopters for the Air Force and is still in the United States at this time. But, Berg said, Robert could be shipped out.
If he is, said Robert's mother, Deanna Berg, "It's to protect his country and that's what he's trained to do."
Asked whether he was nervous, Robert Berg said no.
"This mother is, though," his wife broke in.
Relatives left at home face a unique kind of pressure, said Dottie Rice, the mayor's wife. She said she was engaged to Bob Rice when he served in Vietnam.
"Well, it's very hard sitting back here," she said. "We used to look forward to the mail just as much as they looked forward to it out there."
Rice said talking with support groups helped her, as well as prayer. "There were many times I went into the church and sat there and just kneeled and prayed," she said.
One of the most important things, she said, was to keep busy, writing letters and baking. "When I knew that he was sharing it with everyone else, that really kept me busy and my mind off everything else."
Havre resident Roger George, 38, was at the rally dressed up in an Uncle Sam outfit. George said he supports the war, "Providing they go in early and do it right this time," he said as his white adhesive goatee shivered in the breeze. "There's always a fear of lost lives," he said.
"Any prospect of war makes me nervous anymore with all the technology," agreed Bob Kaul, 60, who said he spent some time in the military in the early 1960s. "To me the most important thing is to support the guys that are over there, let them know they're appreciated."
A few motorcycle riders in leather showed up for the rally. Havre resident Marvin Turner, 50, standing next to his Harley-Davidson, said he has a nephew in the Marines who is on his way home for a two-week leave.
"I know several of the young men who are over there from Havre," Turner said.
"You hear about people protesting the war, but there's a lot more people supporting the president, and what he's trying to do," he said.
"It's a pretty good turnout here," Turner said.
The Rev. Steve Flatau, 44, expressed amazement at the war footage on television, which he said "gives you a whole new perspective."
"It's amazing to see," Flatau said. Flatau is the minister of the Havre Assembly of God church, which held a prayer vigil Thursday for the troops.
Jean Smith, the Havre woman who is running Operation Havre Love to assemble care packages to send to the USS Abraham Lincoln, was at the rally collecting donations to help pay for postage for the packages.
Smith, whose granddaughter, Jody Corner, is a sailor on the aircraft carrier, is still asking for donations of store-bought granola bars and microwave popcorn as well as baked cookies.
Smith said she will start putting letters, food items and cookies in boxes on Monday at 11 a.m. at City Hall. Smith said she has collected about 200 cookies, more than 200 granola bars, and nearly 300 microwave popcorn packets. "And we're getting more every day," she said.
"For a little town to have that many people in the service, there's got to be something good going on here," she said, adding that she had received donations from as far away as New York and Arkansas.
Rice called the turnout for the rally "excellent."
"We're going to do this again," he said.
By 7:50 a.m. the lawn was empty.
Rice said he hopes to edit the tapes of the rally for the soldiers by the end of next week, and send them soon after. Rice said friends and relatives can come to City Hall by next Friday to add a personalized, filmed message onto the tape after the footage of the rally. Those interested can call the mayor's office at 265-6719 for more information.