Angered by anti-war protests across the country, about 80 Utahns gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Friday night to send a strong message of support to U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf.

They carried signs, waved miniature American flags and sang patriotic hymns. As dusk deepened to dark, they began to speak, taking turns stepping up to the microphone set up on the steps."I know everybody here probably knows someone in the gulf. I want them to know we support them no matter what happens. We support them 100 percent," one of the first speakers said.

Most people at the rally have family members in the gulf. Children held signs that said, "We love you, Daddy," "We miss you, Dad," and "We love our dad."

Natalie Fortie, 10, attended the rally with her mother, Cindy, and three siblings. Each of the Fortie youngsters carried a sign. "Our mom did them," Natalie said. "But we told her what we wanted her to write down."

"I didn't," 6-year-old Krystle Fortie pointed out.

The children's father, Jeff, is in the Persian Gulf with the 321st Medical Detachment. He went there "a long, long time ago - before Christmas," Krystle said.

Asked if he knew why he was at the rally, Brian Fortie, 10, said, "Not really. But my sign says, `We support our president. We love our troops.' "

But Natalie knew. "People are saying mean things and holding up mean signs that say they don't want this war and they don't want our troops to be over there. But our troops went over there to help us. We're glad they went away and we aren't disrespectful. We came here to hold up signs that say nice things."

She even knew what the war was about. "There are a lot of people fighting a guy ruling over a country he wasn't supposed to rule over. We don't like him ruling over other places without asking," Natalie said.

The Fortie children spent 21/2 hours at the rally, listening to short speeches made by other people who have loved ones in the gulf. They always interrupted their interview with the Deseret News when they heard the voices of other children speaking into the microphone. The youngsters would twist around on the steps to look at the children who were talking about their daddies.

Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam spoke briefly to the group. As a former soldier, he could appreciate why they were there and he, too, supports the U.S. effort in the Gulf, he said.

Rep. Michael G. Waddoups, R-Salt Lake, told the group the Legislature passed a unanimous declaration of support for Operation Desert Storm.

"I think it is a good thing for Americans and Utahns to be in the Persian Gulf fighting against aggression, tyranny and terrorism," he said. He repeated the statement made by an Israeli broadcaster earlier that day, "God Bless America."

The Fortie youngsters don't know much about tyranny and terrorism. But they know that this war has the power to change their lives forever.

"We're all scared," Natalie said.

"That daddy might get killed," Krystle said.

"We love him and miss him," Brian said.

"We like the movie he sent us," Thomas said.

"We hope he comes home soon," Natalie said.

"And we wish him luck," Brian added.