Hundreds gather in rain to thank American troops From Inner Harbor to Pikesville to Essex, support-the-troops rallies attract crowds. PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN


Gray skies and a steady drizzle failed to -- spirits throughout the metropolitan area as yellow ribbons, flags and prayers of thanksgiving flowed at a series of rallies held in support of American troops in the Persian Gulf.

At Joseph Rash Memorial Field in the Inner Harbor yesterday, about 500 people heard Delores Lynn sing the national anthem.

In Baltimore County, about 1,000 people waved flags, ate cupcakes and hot dogs and bought posters and T-shirts at Cox Park in Essex. And 75 people gathered in the parking lot of the Old Court Metro Station in Pikesville to listen to speeches and songs.

"We figured that the troops faced worse adversities for us. We can face a little rain today," Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told the people who turned out for the rally at Rash Field.

Schmoke and other elected officials praised the efforts of the allied troops. The rally was scheduled before President Bush called for an end to the hostilities with Iraq. It was originally billed as "a solemn prayer for peace," Schmoke said.

Other dignitaries included Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, both D-Md.; Rep. Tom McMillen, D-4th; Brig. Gen. David Allen of the First Army; and Cmdr. George R. Marvin of the USS Boulder, which anchored in the Inner Harbor over the weekend.

Navy Chaplain Alfonso Todd offered a prayer to thank God "for giving us the type of understanding that we have as a people, as a free people."

Some of the people in the audience held signs that read: "Proud, Brave and Free," "United for Freedom -- The Troops of Desert Storm" and "Thanks, Norman [Schwarzkopf]. You did a great job."

Mikulski hailed the American military and especially the Air Force, which "pounded the hell out of Saddam Hussein." She said the successes of the war strategies used against Iraq could be used to stop the domestic war on drugs.

"We did it in the desert and we're ready to do it in our own country," Mikulski said.

At the rally in Essex, Kristi Gordon led a chorus of girls from St. Clare's School and the Essex United Methodist Church in singing "Santa, Can You Bring My Daddy Home," a song that was written in Essex and came to serve as one of the war's anthems last December.

"My 4-year-old now says he wants to be a soldier," said Evelyn Ellis, an Essex resident who waved a flag at the rally. "First, he wanted to be a lawyer. Now, he wants to be a Marine."

Tracy Kelch, 22, and Mary Toland, 23, both of Dundalk, had American flags wrapped around their bodies like togas. Each woman held red, white and blue balloons, some tied with yellow ribbons.

"We care about what happens to our [troops]," said Kelch. "We might not support what Bush does, but we support them. They are there and they put their lives on the line and they kicked butt!"

Elsie Nugent, 66, wept during the program as she thought of her two grandsons who are in the Army serving in the Persian Gulf.

"It touches everybody's heart," Nugent said. "This means so much. It shows that we care and that we won't let them down. Keep the faith."

The hour-long rally at the Old Court Metro Station attracted 75 people and featured speeches by state and county elected officials.

"I don't know many Americans who haven't been touched by this event in the Middle East," said state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, who was a Marine in World War II.

"I'm here to support our troops," said Megan Donahue, 11, taking a brief break from skipping and waving her two flags. "I'm just happy."

The 21-member First Army Band from Fort Meade provided patriotic music, and color guards from American Legion Post 122 marched and saluted the flag.

Ed Jackson, 68, who has a nephew in the Persian Gulf, said he believes the war gives America a new global image.

"I think it gives the United States a new stature all over the world -- respect and dignity" for defeating tyranny, Jackson, a retired salesman, said.

State Sen. Paula Hollinger, D-Balto. Co., told the crowd, "This is a very, very special day. I'm only sorry it's raining on everyone's parade."

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