LONG BEACH - It was not hard to see signs of patriotic pride displayed throughout Long Beach on Saturday. Light poles throughout downtown were lined with the stars and stripes of recently added American flags, while many people wore those colors to show their spirit.
Many of these people attended a rally Saturday to show support of U.S. troops involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In all, an estimated 125 met at Gazebo Park - many of them U.S. service veterans, local leaders or concerned citizens.
County Clerk Virginia Leach opened the event by serenading the crowd with the song "God Bless America" and a song version of the "Lord's Prayer" before five local ministers led the crowd in a group prayer.
Former Sen. Sid Snyder was one of the first to take the stage and speak in patriotic terms, even telling a story about a friend who was a serviceman in a time of conflict.
"He always said he'd be either be a hero or dead," said Snyder, "but he ended up being a dead hero."
He concluded his speech by thanking those in attendance and saying, "Let's send a strong message to the world that we're behind our troops and we hurry to get them home. God bless America. We live in a wonderful country."
There were some worries by city organizers that the affair may have been a wet one. Intermittent rain fell Saturday morning that possibly could have dampened both the spirits and clothes of those attending. But by the afternoon, the sun shone through the breaking clouds and spread light across those who attended, many waving red, white and blue flags.
Bob Andrew, chairman of the Loyalty Days Celebration, was another to address the crowd, speaking on a couple of subjects.
"Some of us weren't quite as active in my age group to say that we wanted to jump into the [Vietnam] war," he said. "And there were a lot of demonstrations against the war in Vietnam - right, wrong or indifferent."
He mentioned he recently had spoke to a woman who was afraid her son may go on to battle in this war.
"No parent wants to lose a child," he said. "No parent wants to have the responsibility of going on without the children they bring into this world."
He said he went on tell her that he would be proud if either his son or daughter were serving their country.
"And if that's how they happen to meet the Lord, so be it. I would stand there in pride of that fact."
Long Beach City Councilor Ralph Moore, who led the event, spoke his opinion of people who have publicly protested the war.
"In protesting the war and exercising their First Amendment rights, they put the doubt in our soldiers," he said, "they [the soldiers] hesitate for a moment before they react, and another soldier dies. They're [the protesters] partially to blame. And if they give the enemy the will ... and we lose another soldier, they haven't helped our cause.
"They have that First Amendment right. These veterans out here in front of you have given that right to them and will protect it, each one of us, to the end."
Debbie Oakes took the stage to thank the community for the support she and her family have received since her son Jared has been deployed to the Middle East.
"Certainly we were scared to death," she said, "but we've had such an outpouring of support and prayers - and truly that is what is sustaining us."
In the end, the rally accomplished its goal of bringing part of the community together in hopes of supporting not only the troops, but the families and each other.
"So be thankful for those that are out there serving our country," said Andrew. "They are doing a job many of us do not want to do, but they are doing it with pride, patriotism and love of the United States of America, the greatest country that I know that you could ever live in. "
New Support Group in Time of War:
Thursday nights, 6 p.m., at New Life Assembly of God church. This is a non-church gathering for people interested in communing with others who have loved ones in military service or have anxieties related to the war in Iraq.