Local News

Fayetteville Rally Brings War Opponents, Supporters Together

Posted March 21, 2004

— More than 1,500 protesters marched Saturday through this military town on the anniversary of the war in Iraq, confronted by a few dozen supporters of the war.

The march snaked from old downtown Fayetteville -- only a few miles from Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base -- to Rowan State Park, where protesters sang folk songs and denounced the policies of President George W. Bush.

Counter-protesters stood across the street, some revving their motorcycle engines to drown out the singing.

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Hoffman, who was based at Camp Lejeune before deploying to Iraq last spring, came to Fayetteville from Philadelphia as a member of

Veterans for Peace.

He told the crowd he did not believe in the invasion of Iraq and was angry with President Bush for "lying about why we went in."

"I joined the Marines ... because I wanted to help the world," Hoffman said before the afternoon rally. "That's not what we're doing in Iraq. We are hurting people for oil."

Hoffman wore a button that said: "War for oil is terrorism."

Protestor Larry Syverson, meanwhile, said: "Iraqi oil isn't worth my sons' blood."

Syverson made the trip from Virginia. Both of his sons are in the Army. One just returned from Iraq; the other is still in Baghdad.

"I'm very proud of what they do, the career they've chosen," Syverson said. "But I don't support the war effort."

Hoffman said he did not plan to re-enlist.

"We don't want him, anyway," said Jose Perez, a 39-year-old former member of the Fort Bragg-based 82nd Airborne Division and a Gulf War veteran.

"I'm here to support my brothers and sisters," Perez said. "This war is about freedoms. And the soldiers are defending freedoms. Even the protesters'."

Perez and other veterans who support the war chanted: "We gave peace a chance. We got 9-11."

As one war protester walked by, Perez told him to get a haircut and join them.

Others chanted "Four more years" and "Osama loves you" while police stood in the street between the groups.

"I'm here because (anti-war protesters) are here in a military town, where there are wives with husbands overseas, and husbands with wives overseas," said Ed Penick, 50, who drove about 200 miles from Roanoke, Va., to join the counter-protest.

"This kind of thing gives aid and comfort to the bad guys."

Suzanne Francais also joined the crowd. She said her husband has been in Iraq for a year.

"I think they need to come home," said Francais, who opposes the war. "I think they had no business being there in the first place."

Police reported no arrests or injuries during Saturday's event.

To ensure everything stayed peaceful between the two groups, they put plenty of extra officers. Deputies on the streets even brought in bomb-sniffing dogs.

The protest came as acts of violence claimed the lives of two more Americans in Iraq on Saturday. A marine was killed while on security detail, and a soldier died in a vehicle accident.

That brought the number of troops killed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom to 572. More than 3,000 (3,300) have been wounded.

Those numbers are the reason people around the world gathered to protest the war in Iraq.

In Cairo, a crowd of shouting protestors set fire to an American Flag. In London, 25,000 gathered in Trafalgar square while two men climbed Big Ben to unfurl banners. And here at home, demonstrators filled the streets of America's major cities from New York to San Francisco.

Phyllis Rodgers' husband is scheduled to leave for Iraq this summer. She came to the Fayettevill event to show her support for the troops.

"I think it's the least I could do to come down here and show my support," Rodgers said.

She said the war protestors send the wrong message to troops.

"I think its a shame that people don't understand exactly why they have the freedom to protest," she said.

Many veteran groups turned out to say the same message.

"We won't allow to happen to them what happened to us when we were in Vietnam," said Bob Patrikious, who supports the troops.

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