As more than 300 Utah National Guardsmen left Utah County for Fort Lewis, Wash., and possibly the Middle East, some residents turned out to make sure those men know they have support at home.
Vietnam War veterans Tim Priestley and Paul Wilkey, along with others, held aloft signs asking for drivers along University Avenue and Center Street to "Support our troops!" and "Honk to support our troops!" all day Monday. In addition, the group has been passing out miniature American flags, yellow ribbons and will have "Don't be Saddam dumb" T-shirts on sale Tuesday.The group isn't alone in its support of U.S. troops currently stationed throughout the Middle East; employees of Sears Telecatalog in Provo have decorated their vehicles with yellow ribbons tied to radio antennas, and Spanish Fork City is displaying flags and yellow ribbons around its downtown areas.
However, these support activities may be the most personal. Priestley, who has held up his signs since Jan. 21, has also decorated trees around Provo City, including Pioneer Park, with yellow ribbons and American flags. Wilkey's "God bless the U.S.A." banner is currently adorning a Nativity scene display located near the Utah County Building.
"We're out here to show our support for our American troops," Priestley said. "We've just been wanting to show these men and women that we support them, and this seemed like the best way."
However, the miniature rallies are not being held for pro-war purposes, but for troop support, Wilkey said. "War is ugly. I've been there. I'm proud to be an American, though, and I'm proud to be out here supporting our men."
The group was joined on Saturday afternoon by troop supporters from Brigham Young University, but Priestley said he plans on displaying his signs until "the troops are back home and safe."
Priestley was joined by Wilkey and Linda Cannon, who were both planning support rallies or activities. Both Wilkey and Cannon took vacation time off for the activity.
"I lost friends in the last war," Cannon said. "I know what those who have family or friends in the gulf are going through."
Cannon said that being stationed away from home is "a very lonely feeling, and we need to let these men and women know that they're not alone."
Wilkey said in addition to patriotic displays like wearing flags and yellow ribbons, family and friends of soldiers must keep in touch with them. "Just write then letters. Just keep in touch - let them know you love and support them."
So far, the group said reactions have been very enthusiastic. "Everyone has been very supportive, except for one man who took his flag and threw it into the street," Priestley said.
"And we've gotten more than just honking," he said. "We've gotten waves and thumbs-up signs from people, and offers to help us out. That's what I'd call support."