SANDUSKY - Jimi Bickley and Chris Bittner played on the same baseball team when they were children.
Yesterday, their parents ran into each other in a crowd of 400 people in downtown Sandusky at a rally for the military troops overseas. Scott Bittner held up a photo of his son - an Army soldier - and smiled at the sign Vicki Bickley made for her son, a Navy petty officer third class in Kuwait.
They're on the same team again, he said, in the military, fighting a war in Iraq.
“We were so pleased to see all these people turn out. When it's this cold, you know they really want to be here,” he said, standing in the windy, 40-degree weather. “It's just hard when your son is over there and all you hear is people against the war.”
The rally was promoted simply as a way to show support for the troops. But many who were there criticized anti-war protesters and urged the crowd to show support for the war as well as the troops. Signs read “Support Our Country” and “If you're not with U.S., you're against U.S.” Speakers touted the need for the war.
But the focus quickly came back to the troops.
In a sea of veterans and community members waving American flags, families of armed forces members from all over northwest Ohio held their loved ones' photos high over their heads. They lined up at the podium and cried as, one by one, they talked about their family members overseas. Their stories drew passionate cheers from the crowd.
Tabitha Mowel, 22, is following 10 miles behind the Army's 3rd Infantry Division as it fights its way through Iraq as part of a refueling unit, her mother said.
Sally Herr's husband, Sgt. William Herr, has been in the Army Reserves for 28 years and was set to retire in January. Now he's stationed in Kuwait. He last called Mrs. Herr on Tuesday night.
“I was at a prayer vigil to pray for him, so I wasn't home. He said he was doing fine, ... but he said they need toilet paper. Please send toilet paper,” she told the crowd, which broke out in laughter and cheers.
Tom and Candy Andres last heard from their son Sean, a Marine, in a letter they got March 8. He's somewhere in Iraq now. Their son Erik also is a Marine and the father of a baby boy born last week. Erik is expected to leave for Iraq next month.
“Word is slow coming from Sean, but we have a lot of people pulling for him,” Mr. Andres said. “Especially, I want to say we should back our commander-in-chief. I never hear anyone saying that. He wouldn't put our children in danger if he didn't believe it was right.”
It went on and on, for more than 30 minutes. Two teenagers said their father was in Iraq, and they wanted him home safely. A young woman wept as she talked about her husband, a Marine, who is a “scout sniper” in Iraq.
Jim Caldwell's voice cracked as he read a poem called “Old Glory.” His son, Maj. Scott Caldwell, is fighting in Iraq for the second time. When Mr. Caldwell finished reading, his 8-year-old neighbor, Tylor Hobson, took a piece of paper out of his pocket.
“Please say a prayer that all our soldiers will come home soon,” he read to the crowd.
Marine Maj. Tom Foos, who fought in Operation Desert Storm, told the crowd that knowing people supported him boosted his morale while he was overseas.
“Make no mistake why we are at war: Our country was attacked. Over 3,000 people died. And it was an unprovoked attack,” he said, adding that the soldiers in Iraq decided to enlist, are motivated, and “know the risks.”
The rally was organized by Kitty Brandal, a local Navy veteran who said she was upset that the only rallies going on were by people opposing the war. The local Clear Channel radio station assisted at the event, she said.
Clear Channel has been involved in several pro-war rallies across the country that have drawn thousands of people.