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San Diegans Clash About How to Support Troops While Protesting War in Iraq

A national wave of anti-war sentiment has reached San Diego. Some 1500 protestors marched downtown this weekend. This military town has seen its share of casualties in Iraq. Thousands of local service

San Diegans Clash About How to Support Troops While Protesting War in Iraq

A national wave of anti-war sentiment has reached San Diego. Some 1500 protestors marched downtown this weekend. This military town has seen its share of casualties in Iraq. Thousands of local service members are still fighting there. But San Diegans disagree on what this country should be doing for the troops. KPBS Radio's Andrew Phelps has the story.

Once every month, veterans gather in Balboa Park to honor dead service members.

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who does not support these troops. But the definition of "support" is the dividing line.

Stu Hedley: December the 7th, 1941, we knew who the enemy was immediately.

Stu Hedley is a Pearl Harbor survivor. He's one of the veterans reading names. Hedley's grandson is in Iraq.

Stu Hedley: September 11th, 2001, we don't know who the enemy is even yet to this day. We call them terrorists. To me the anti-war group over here are just as much a terrorist as the ones that are shooting the bullets. Why? Because they're tearing down the morale of our boys that are over in harm's way.

In the same city at the same hour, hundreds of protestors are gathering downtown.

This man goes by Johnny. He says the terrorists are in the White House.

Johnny: Come get me President Bush. You wanna see what's up? I'll tell you what's up. The people are sick and tired of the war in the country, and I don't want anymore war. And you only have this war so your buddies get rich, and I'm sick and tired of it. People are dying, innocent people are dying because you want to have a war, so you can make more money. That's bulls**t!

  Valerie Grischy: We want to be heard in a way that is convincing, not agitating. So we don't really like the swearing, and it reflects badly on all of us…

This is Valerie Grischy.

Valerie Grischy: …You know, those of us who are old to enough to have been aware during the Vietnam protests and all that kind of stuff -- those protests were not necessarily done right either, because, you know, violence and violent attitudes begets more violence. And that's not what we're about. We want to get the message across, and, you know, the best way to get the message across to somebody is not to piss them off.

There are many examples that this town isn't known for civil unrest in wartime. A pick-up truck pulls in front of the protestors. The woman inside holds out her middle finger. "F you!" she yells. "We're the Marines!"

At least 31 service members from San Diego have died in this war. Debra Pinkston says her whole family's in the service. She wants the troops home.

Debra Pinkston: Even the people over there, I don't want the people in Iraq to die. The families, the children. Everybody's lost daughters, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents. For what? For what?

Pinkston is wearing a "Worst President Ever" T-shirt. She says President Bush's troop increase is a turning point in this war.

Debra Pinkston: For a long time if you said were against this, you were unpatriotic like you were a horrible person, like, you know, you're against the troops. It's changing. Finally. Finally, it's changing.

Just outside the fray, a bunch of guys with buzz cuts are looking on with pain in their faces. One young man can't take it anymore. He confronts Pinkston. "You don't support the Marines," he says. She rushes to defend herself.

Debra Pinkston: No! This helps morale. The troops are very happy we're doing this. They're like, "Yes! Thank you! Somebody speak up for us, because we can't do it ourselves." They have to count us.

 The war continues overseas, and so does one at home. For KPBS, I'm Andrew Phelps.