As the crowd gathered for the rally yesterday at Fort McHenry, Ronald Jones and his wife, Suzanne, planted their small sign into the lawn.
"Never again can we allow our troops to be denigrated," it said.
In a nutshell, that was the theme of the two-hour, flag-waving rally, hosted by the American Freedom Coalition of Maryland. Mindful of the antipathy many Americans felt toward the military as the war in Vietnam soured, yesterday's crowd was intent on making sure history won't repeat itself as the United States prosecutes the Persian Gulf war.
"The worst thing about Vietnam was what we allowed a segment of our society to do to the troops," said Mr. Jones, a Reisterstown resident who served in Korea soon after the war there ended. "We can't allow that to happen again."
Richard Mossman experienced America's antipathy toward its Vietnam-era soldiers firsthand. "I served in Vietnam," he told the crowd of several hundred. "I came back. I was spit on, called a baby-killer."
His son, Richard, is now in the Persian Gulf, an electrician's mate on the USS Saratoga. Mr. Mossman doesn't want his son to return to a similar homecoming.
"I was treated like a criminal, and I don't want to see that happen again," he sad. "I want us to show our support for our guys. They need it. They're our troops."
Mr. Mossman said his son, who is 20 and has been in the gulf since Aug. 9, has seen television coverage of the domestic reaction to the war. "He wrote that he was worried about the anti-war rallies, that he didn't want to come back to what I came back to," said Mr. Mossman. "I wrote back and told him to just ignore it."
Gerald Leighton, a professor at Washington's Southeastern University and the chairman of the coalition, told the crowd that the Persian Gulf troops were the best trained in U.S. history and were fighting with the most advanced technology. He implied that the only way the war could be lost was if domestic support evaporated. "We don't want to lose it at home," he said.