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Vocal group protests war

War protesters in Oak Harbor got plenty of honks and waves of support Saturday afternoon, while their presence sparked a counter-protest down the street.

The anti-war forces also got a lot of fingers stabbed at them in anger as they surrounded the busy intersection of Highway 20 and Whidbey Avenue.

“No Iraq War” was professionally printed in red, white and blue. Homemade signs read: “Impeach Bush!,” “Thou shalt not kill — God,” “Oil supports terrorism,” “Don’t bomb the kids of Iraq,” “Peace is Patriotic” and “Pro-military, anti-Bush.”

The reasons people gave for being part of the rally were as diverse as their signs.

George Pardington organized the protest and said more than 100 people came out. Pardington’s signs read “No Iraq War” and “Get Osama Not Hussein!” The Oak Harbor man’s ballcap read Vietnam Veteran.

Pardington is a retired chief petty officer who enlisted in the U.S. Navy thinking that would keep him out of a war. “I didn’t think the Navy would be as involved as it was in Vietnam,” he said. Pardington served on the USS Passumpsic, a supply ship, off the coast of Da Nang. He served on ships patrolling off the coasts of Lebanon and Iran. “I was on the USS Midway when the U.S. Embassy in Iran was taken,” he said.

“I’m not anti-war or anti-military,” Pardington said. “I’m anti-bullyism. If we need to go to war, we go. But Osama bin Laden attacked and murdered 3,000 Americans. Bush has given up on bin Laden and Al Qaeda and is going after Hussein. Bush is wasting time and money after he promised to get bin Laden.

“I’m not anti-military,” Pardington emphasized. “I know only too well what it’s like to be suddenly taken away from your family to go where you really don’t want to go.

“We don’t have solid proof Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, there are no direct threats. Bin Laden threatened us and made good on that threat,” Pardington continued. “Thank God we live where we can speak out against what we don’t believe.”

Support shown

Pardington — and others at the protest — said they were “surprised” at the support they were getting in Oak Harbor.

“Since announcing this (protest), I received a few negative phone calls and one adverse e-mail,” Pardington said. “The person said I was an anti-American, anti-patriotic flag-burner. The person didn’t contact me again after I replied that I was a 20-year Navy veteran.”

Peggy Burton of Coupeville said she was “seeing great support in Oak Harbor … and this is a military town!” Burton said she wasn’t trying to change people’s minds or change the military. “I want to get people thinking ‘What are we doing? Is there a better way to get the world to change?’”

Burton was a child during World War II. Her family lived in the East End of London — the area that saw the heaviest bombing by the Nazis.

“War is terrible,” Burton said. “There’s no food, no heat. We never knew when we left for school, if home would be there when we got back,” she said. Burton’s family did lose their home in the bombing.

“We need to take more time,” she said. “I think the U.S. is so powerful we could be a vanguard to show the world how to live. People in the world love our country but they don’t love our government.”

Burton’s sign read “Resolve Conflicts Peaceably”; she protests in Coupeville regularly Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

By the time Nicole Langley of Clinton got to Oak Harbor, she had spent two hours protesting in Coupeville. Her sign read “Thou Shalt Not Kill — God.”

“We don’t have the answers to solving our problems, Langley said. “But humans are so amazing, surely we can figure out something better than war. It’s surprising how much positive reaction we’re getting here. I think many people are relieved we’re out here. They’re thinking, ‘Finally someone is speaking they way I feel!’,” she said. “One lady did roll down her car window and said, ‘My husband is over there and you’d better pray for him’. I told her: ‘Honey we ARE.’ I’m not anti-military,” Langley continued. “I’m pro-peace. There’s a big difference.”

Fault found with protest

Across the highway at a fast-food drive through, Daniel Hammond of Oak Harbor looked a the protesters curiously. “I’ve lived here my whole life,” Hammond said. “I believe in freedom of speech and that they are doing what they believe in but I don’t agree with them. We should have taken care of Hussein years ago.”

“I disagree with them,” Isaac Nichols of Oak Harbor declared. “I think we have to fight for our country. We elected our president. We need to support him.”

Mike Monschau, a Navy veteran from Oak Harbor said, “I don’t think they know what they are doing. No one wants to go to war but Saddam Hussein needs to be put in his place.”

Back at the protest site, Larry Eaton, a retired government and history teacher, said, “I don’t believe war is the way to solve our problems. U.N. weapons inspectors should be allowed to work. I don’t trust the two cowboys (Bush and Cheney) in the White House.”

Eaton added, “I’m not anti-military. I don’t want our military to give their lives and people in the Middle East are humans too. I don’t want any of their lives lost to be considered ‘collateral damage’.”

Joann Chamberlin is a Coupeville resident and teaches at Hillcrest Elementary School in Oak Harbor. “We can’t estimate the ramifications of war,” she said. “I believe we should let the U.N. inspectors work. And that every peace alternative is explored. I don’t want the parents of my students coming home in body bags,” she said.

Oak Harbor residents Brandi Matros and Jennifer Giles carried pro-military, anti-Bush signs. Matros said. “We shouldn’t go to war unless we have backing of other countries and the U.N. We have friends out on carriers. My son’s father is on the Carl Vinson.”

“We’re very proud of the military and all they stand for,” Matros and Giles said as a driver yelled “Go home! You (obscenity)!”, and three passengers gestured rudely and flashed their middle fingers.

Some protest the protesters

A block down the street at SW Third Avenue, a small group of counter protesters received their share of support from passing motorists. They waved signs reading: “Warning: Commie liberals ahead,” “I back my shipmates” and “Support the military.”

This group wasn’t organized but they were not less fervent.

“I didn’t see them (the protesters) with signs saying ‘I love my country,’ so I came out here,” Joe Hawkins said. “I’m protesting those guys up there,” he added, gesturing up the highway. “I don’t think they have the right idea. I’m sick of south island Democrats trying to run this island.”

“That’s right!” a man named David added. “I don’t want to give my last name so those people (nodding up the road) can call me at home.” The retired chief petty officer wore a jacket covered on the back and sleeves with squadron patches. “I served at this base for 16 of 20 years in the Navy. I lost my mom while I was serving in the Persian Gulf and I think we should finish what we started there. I’m out here to support my guys — the ones I trained — in VFA-137 and VAQ-131,” said the retired aviation ordnanceman. “They’re out in 120-degree weather doing what has to be done. I don’t want them spit on when they come back home.”

“I’m on the your side, buddy,” David called to a group of young men who were catcalling at him from a car stopped at a red light.

“Yeah, right on! Let’s go kill the (obscenity)” they responded, pumping their arms in the air.

David continued, “Normally I wouldn’t be out here but I think they shouldn’t be on the street pushing their opinions on people. Their protest should be in Smith Park or some other park.”

Richard Mann of Oak Harbor is a retired United States Air Force master sergeant. “I got my aircrew wings here,” Mann said. “I came out to support the troops and our country. I’m definitely not a pacifist.”

David Fischer of Oak Harbor explained his presence. “I saw him (nodding to David) out here by himself and stopped,” he said. “I was Alpha Company of the 4th Landing Support Battalion of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves in the desert. After seeing the oil fires in Kuwait, I know Hussein has no compunction about anything he does. We don’t need a thermonuclear Sept. 11 to wake up the world,” Fischer said.

At both intersections, people continued to wave signs. Drivers continued to honk and wave; yell and taunt. Everyone was determined to let their opinions be seen and heard.

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