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Yellow Ribbons at an O.C. Church Reflect War's Generational Parallel

March 30, 2003|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

Few here at home can know what the thousands of Americans serving in the Iraq war are going through, but a Buena Park pastor believes he may have a better idea than most.

Nearly four decades ago, the Rev. Wiley Drake was headed to Vietnam aboard the same Navy aircraft carrier now carrying his nephew, Michael Drake.

"I was on my way to the South China Sea aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, wondering how this brand-new ship was going to do in the war," Drake said as he and dozens of others gathered Saturday to tie yellow ribbons as a show of support for U.S. troops.

"Now Michael is probably wondering what this old ship can do in this brand-new war," Drake said.

Drake, who exchanges e-mails with his nephew, said the Navy medic and pharmacist has not yet had to treat any wounded, but "he is obviously very concerned."

Those assembled before an impromptu memorial at a fence in front of Drake's First Southern Baptist Church said the ribbons were a message to the service men and women that they are not forgotten back home.

"I want the troops to know they are my family," said Maryann Perez, 48, of Buena Park. "They are in our hearts and in our prayers."

Behind Perez, whose daughter's boyfriend is serving in the war, the church's wrought-iron fence was adorned with yellow ribbons of different sizes and photographs of U.S. soldiers. A large U.S. flag was draped across the fence, which serves as a memorial to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The Buena Park event was one of several war-related happenings around Orange County, including a peace rally in Anaheim.

"Regardless of how you feel about the war," said Drake, a war supporter, "we want the troops to come home safely, and we want them to know that they will be welcome back."

For many returning from service in the Vietnam War, the political and civil upheaval of the era meant a cold reception at best.

"When I came back, I went right back to college," said Drake, who served as a machinist on the carrier, "and when they found out I had been in the war, they called me 'baby killer' and 'warmonger.'

"We all want peace. I just don't want peace at any price," said the pastor, who made headlines a few years ago when he fought City Hall over a homeless shelter he was running at his church.

The ribbons, he said, are also reminders for people to pray for the soldiers.

"I'm too old to serve," Drake said, "but not too old to kneel."

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