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Orange County

Vets Unfurl a New Wave of Patriotism

Unity: Soldiers from other eras display flags from a Costa Mesa corner to support U.S. troops.

November 04, 2001|MIKE ANTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Most weekends, these men would have been out golfing, doing yardwork, watching TV or just lounging around the house.

But Saturday, this band of brothers found themselves at Newport Boulevard and 19th Street in Costa Mesa, dressed in the uniforms of their youth, waving flags in a way that, to them, has never gone out of style.

Three months ago, passersby would have looked at these war veterans, most in their 70s and 80s, and wondered what the heck they were doing.

Now, in the wake of Sept. 11, drivers laid on their horns and rolled down their windows to give a thumbs-up or a salute.

"This is not about flag-waving. It's deeper than that," said Sid Hallburn, 75, a World War II veteran who was waving a flag. "Patriotism's back. People are finally starting to wake up about what it means to be an American."

A week after the terrorist attacks, Hallburn felt he had to do something. He called his friend Cornell Iliescu, a native of Romania, whose hobby is military history and who carries business cards that identify him as an American patriot.

The two went out to a street corner in Huntington Beach and waved the flag. The response they got was good. No, make that great.

"I felt real proud," Hallburn said. "So I thought we should do it again."

They called some buddies who, like them, are members of the Freedom Committee of Orange County, a group of veterans who speak at elementary schools. A dozen or so spent another Saturday on the street in Huntington Beach. Then they moved on; Saturday was their second outing on busy Newport Boulevard. It won't be their last.

"We wouldn't want to do it every week," Hallburn said. "It would be too much. A lot of these guys are in their 80s."

Fifteen showed up by noon Saturday. Veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War. A couple of men survived Pearl Harbor, a son and his father.

"My dad got me out here," said Bill Cargile, who served in Vietnam a generation after his father, Will, flew bombers in the Pacific. "I support my dad. I admire my parents' generation."

Mel Kapson, 81, spent 28 years in the Air Force, flew missions in three wars and retired as a major. Two years ago, a bone spur pierced his spine. He sat along the curb Saturday in a wheelchair, waving a flag, happy that, for the moment at least, people were responding.

"I can't take action anymore," Kapson said, patting his chair. "But I can still visually and verbally back my country."

Behind him, Hallburn led his squad in a march down the sidewalk in front of Borders bookstore. Then the men gathered and sang "God Bless America."

Drivers at the stoplight blared their horns.

Kay Okrand, on her way to lunch, had to pull over.

"I always have a camera in the car because you never know," said Okrand, who is "fortyish" and lives in Newport Beach.

She got the men to pose for her. Then she got someone to take a couple of shots of her with the men.

"This is very cool," she said. "I bet they were really cute when they were 20 years old."

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