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Marines Honored for Service in Iraq

Thousands attend Oceanside's Defenders of Freedom Parade. All say they support the troops, though some criticize the war.

October 26, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

OCEANSIDE — The troops that rolled into Baghdad to topple Saddam Hussein's regime six months ago marched Saturday down Coast Boulevard before a cheering, flag-waving crowd drawn by the chance to express appreciation.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" shouted Millie Silverman, a teacher from nearby Vista, at Marines from Camp Pendleton at the start of the Defenders of Freedom Parade organized by the city and Chamber of Commerce.

More than 10,000 troops from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force marched in neat rows as the crowd cheered, bands played and confetti cannons blasted red, white and blue pieces of papers into the air.

Marine helicopters swooped low over the crowd. At the nearby beach, Marine landing craft came chugging ashore.

Although the crowd appeared to be less than half of the predicted 80,000, the welcome-home celebration was the largest staged in this military town since the Korean War.

The event was meant to commemorate the Marines' role in removing Hussein and his Baath Party from power, but much of the talk was about what lies ahead for the Marines.

The parade came just days after Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group at Camp Pendleton that the Pentagon is considering sending a Marine contingent to Iraq early next year to assist in rebuilding.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), speaking to Marines and others after the parade, said that Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, would "undoubtedly" return to Iraq.

Conway, following Issa on the podium, said the Marines can enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas with their families. After that, he said, "we don't know what's next."

Among the troops and their families, however, the consensus rumor was that the Marine contingent returning to Iraq would be large and that it would go soon. Myers said the Pentagon was considering sending Marines in February, March or April.

"We're ready, I think," said a young woman, her eyes beginning to well with tears. "He just got home and now...." She wore a T-shirt reading "Marine Wife: The Toughest Job in the Corps." Even a small group of antiwar protesters picked up the theme that the Marines might soon return to Iraq.

"Don't go back, don't go back," protesters shouted at the troops. Signs urged Marines to call an 800 number to inquire about their rights to refuse to return to Iraq.

People in North San Diego County "don't want the troops going back," said Marcia Patt, a member of the North County Coalition for Peace & Justice. "Young Americans are dying because President Bush lied to us about weapons of mass destruction. It's wrong."

Although they waved signs reading "Bush Doesn't Support Our Troops" and "They R Lying 2 U," protesters wanted the Marines to know that their anger was directed not at the troops, but at President Bush's administration. "We love you, we love you!" one protester shouted continually at the marching Marines.

Among the props used by the protesters to attract media attention was a long bedsheet listing the names of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq.

Divina Livaudais of Beavercreek, Ohio, who was in Oceanside to visit a friend, searched the sheet until she found the name of her son, Army Staff Sgt. Nino Livaudais, who was killed April 3. An Army Ranger, he had served two tours in Afghanistan before going to Iraq.

"My son died to protect these people," she said of the protesters. "Just because we haven't found weapons of mass destruction, does that make his death meaningless? They'll never make me believe that."

Many of the signs supporting the troops had been distributed by parade organizers. Sales of American flags were brisk.

Some of those lining the streets brought their own signs, some thanking individual family members in uniform, others with specific messages.

Mary S. Ridgeway of Oceanside, for example, held aloft a hand-drawn sign that said simply, "Mary S. Ridgeway Is Proud of You."

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