Veteran organizes Sunday support rally

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 28, 2003

When he fought in Vietnam, John Severtson remembers the effect of widespread public protests on the troops and the country.

&uot;I think it demoralizes not only the troops, but it demoralizes the families of the troops. It plays mind games with you,&uot; he said.

Now that the United States is at war with Iraq, Severtson, an Albert Lea resident, decided he’d like to see a public show of support for the soldiers to counter the protests that have continued nationwide.

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So, he organized a &uot;Support Our Troops Rally&uot; in Albert Lea. He was on vacation from his job this week, so he had time to throw himself into the project.

After getting permission to use the parking lot at the Albert Lea Union Center for the rally, he contacted the Red Cross and arranged to collect quality-of-life items at the rally to be shipped to the troops. After printing up fliers, he spent hours visiting media and veterans’ groups promoting the event.

&uot;A lot of us feel the same way,&uot; Severtson said. &uot;It’s a good time to do it now.&uot;

The rally will be at 1 p.m. Sunday.

He said dissenters have the right to protest, but he disagrees with their methods now that the war has begun.

&uot;To me, it should be writing your Congressman, through letters and e-mail,&uot; he said. &uot;But once the war started, that’s when I think the protests should have stopped, personally.&uot;

He said that although peace protesters haven’t directed their ire at the troops, it’s hard to separate the war from the people who are fighting it.

&uot;I don’t like war,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve been there. But you still need to support the troops.&uot;

He said that regardless of their feelings about whether the United States should have attacked Iraq, everyone is welcome at the rally.

The Red Cross nationwide is collecting &uot;quality-of-life&uot; items to be sent on to the U.S. forces in the Middle East. Locally, the Red Cross youth group will be running the campaign. Items brought to the rally will be used for that program, Severtson said.

Items the Red Cross is collecting include: shaving cream, razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, individually wrapped pieces of hard candy, games, puzzle books and comic books, videos, DVDs, music CDs, cassettes, coffee and related items, Kool-Aid and other presweetened instant drinks, hand lotion and sanitizer, wet wipes, sunscreen, wrap-around sunglasses, blank assorted greeting cards, snack foods, recent paperback books and batteries.

Homemade items won’t be accepted.

Ann Pribyl, director of the Freeborn County Red Cross, said some of the most in-demand items include batteries of all sizes, toiletries and athletic socks. People can also donate cash to help pay for shipping. She said handwritten letters or religious items aren’t allowed.

Severtson said the event Sunday is going on, rain or shine. &uot;I’ll be down there no matter what,&uot; he said. &uot;Our troops are fighting in lousy weather, too.&uot;