Mona Darwich proudly stood in front of the State Capitol yesterday, one of many who joined a rally to support U.S. troops in Iraq.

2 rallies display
isle aloha for
troops in Iraq

By Diana Leone

Michelle hasn't talked to her husband Patrick, a Marine Reserve staff sergeant deployed in the Middle East, since Tuesday.

Her husband has been gone two months, and "I have no idea if he's near the fighting," Michelle said as she stood with their four children at the corner of Kapiolani and Kalakaua avenues yesterday afternoon.

Michelle, who asked that her last name not be used, was one of hundreds who turned out for two rallies in Honolulu yesterday to support U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.

Between 50 and 100 people stood in front of the Hawaii Convention Center between noon and past 3 p.m., waving signs at a constant stream of traffic.

At the same time, at least 300 people gathered in front of the State Capitol on Beretania Street.

At both locations a cacophony of car horns responded almost constantly to signs asking drivers to "Honk if you love America" and "Remember 9-11: Honk."

"I try to let the kids and family keep me busy," Michelle said over the din of car horns and patriotic music.

It helped a lot yesterday to meet others with "fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters over there," she said. "It's nice to know you're not the only one going through this."

Nearby, Rachel Kukac's sign listed the names of her grandfather, father, father-in-law and boyfriend and read, "To the men in my life who've fought to protect my freedom and yours, Thank you."

Her boyfriend, Francis J. McLaughlin IV, has been back and forth to the Middle East several times already on Navy assignments.

Casey Kakiloa, left, Meleina Fraga and Makana Rosales waved flags yesterday in front of the State Capitol.

"The whole thing is to support our boys and women over there who are risking their lives for us," Kukac said looking around at the crowd dressed in red, white and blue. "It's a real positive thing."

Alex Ortiz' father, Alexander, retired from the Marines six years ago, but he volunteered to go to Iraq as a master gunner.

"I know he takes pride in what he does," said Ortiz, who wore a George W. Bush bumper sticker on his jeans pants leg. "It makes me feel really good."

American flags small, medium and large were in abundance at both rallies. One large flag was even being used by those in front of the Convention Center to "separate the Americans from the fascists or communists," according to rally participant Chris Roth.

Roth and Liz Rees of the anti-war group Refuse and Resist exchanged words with each other through bullhorns from either side of the flag, as police kept a watchful eye that the conflict didn't become physical.

"You do not liberate a country with bombs," Rees yelled into her bullhorn.

"You've been brainwashed. You've always been brainwashed. Suckers," Roth yelled back through his.

"These people are not our enemies. They are our brothers and sisters," Rees replied.

"Go home, al-Qaida. We'll see you later," Roth retorted.

Rees said she was there to be part of the support-the-troops rally, but that the main goal of her organization "is to support GI resisters. ... We believe in our troops, but are not about to glorify Third World slaughter."

Observing the conflict, retired New York police detective Ray Gruntz said: "This is a great country," where people can freely disagree.

"It's nothing to stand here for three hours," Carol White said, since deployed troops are "going through a lot worse."

Her husband, Duane, held a sign that read "War solved slavery, Nazism and communism."

Carol White said she isn't worried about whether post-war Iraq would evolve into a democracy, since "whatever it is would be better than what they have."

Russ Cuban, who was waiting for a bus on Beretania across from the Capitol yesterday at 1:30 p.m., called the rally there "awesome."

"If I was in the Army, I would appreciate my hometown supporting me like this," he said, adding that if he were younger, he'd volunteer to serve.

The Capitol event had live music part of the time, even as a gentle but steady rain came down after 2 p.m.

Some participants moved under the shelter of the Capitol building, but most stuck it out along Beretania with or without umbrellas.

Traditional patriotic songs such as "My Country 'Tis of Thee" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" were interspersed with pop songs such as Neil Diamond's "America" and Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

As the Convention Center rally continued past its scheduled 3 p.m. end time, co-organizer Kim Katjang said she was pleased with the turnout.

"It's all about honoring and showing thanks and support, aloha, respect and appreciation for all our past, present and future service members," Katjang said, as her eyes become teary. "And it's about time."

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