Moral Authority: A Day With the Vets for Freedom

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Sep 18, 2007 7:30 PM
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In an event planned this summer to coincide with the Petraeus Report, Vets for Freedom brought about 250 pro-war vets to the Hill to meet with representatives and senators and talk about the importance of finishing the mission. Here's a group with Sen. Saxby Chambliss, one of whom had three Purple Hearts pinned to his chest and several of whom were Vietnam vets who don't want to make what they call the "same mistake" in Iraq by leaving precipitously. Pete Hegseth, Vets for Freedom director, called the turnout "more than expected," and the crowd absolutely overwhelmed the counter-protest from mouthy anti-war folks nearby.

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A day in the sun. Members of Families United (red shirts) and Vets for Freedom (in khaki) wait for the press conference/rally to begin. Families United welcomes military families, Gold and Blue Star families, and all families of veterans looking to support victory in Iraq and the war on terror.

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Families United estimated that they had more than 200 folks on hand. You probably won't see the crowd on the evening news, but here they are. Every one of them has sacrificed something. For some it's years in service, for others it's a limb, for others still it's a son, daughter, or husband, and they want to stick it out for victory, to bring the troops home with honor, they said.

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Sadly, as one vet put it, "I'm glad Code Pink came out to protest us because it means we'll get more coverage." Well put, true, and a serious indictment of the media. I had hoped Code Pink would at least keep it quiet in the face of this wall of moral authority and they troops they <3 so very much. Nope. When Hegseth talked about those who gave "the final sacrifice on the altar of freedom," the yahoos yelled, "Well, don't sacrifice!" and "How can you ask someone to be the last one to die for a lie?" Keepin' it classy.

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McCain got the most enthusiastic reception of anyone except perhaps Joe Lieberman, who really brought the house down. Still, folks were jumping out of their chairs to see McCain and grab pictures with him.

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I don't want to misrepresent this man, so I'll be clear that I don't know if he was emotional or just pollen-stricken, but I loved the American flag and the autographed hat. I believe he got an autograph from either Lieberman or McCain before they left.

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This guy was arrested while trying to storm the stage, yelling "traitor" at one point, which I thought was a particularly inappropriate battle cry at this particular demonstration. A Blue Star Mom stood her ground in his way, and nothing got too ugly before the police stepped in and escorted him away, though it did get physical with him and the Blue Star Mom, according to witnesses. Another Gold Star mom told me of her experience in 2005, just months after losing her son, when an anti-war protester yelled at her, "How can you live with yourself? You let your son go to war and die in vain!" P.R. masters these guys are.

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A veteran speaks to a protester who was actually willing to listen calmly.

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This Vietnam Vet grabbed me to chase down Lieberman for this picture. Lieberman got the most raucous welcome and cheers during his speech, which was a doozy. "Just because you're for someone else's freedom of speech doesn't mean you take a vow of silence when they say something stupid or despicable," Lieberman said, in reference to the MoveOn ad. MoveOn, of course, came in for the biggest boos of the day.

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The girl on the left is, like, so pissed her mom won't get her contacts. The Code Pinkers, who did not seem to have a permit to protest in their spot, had to be told repeatedly by police to be quiet or they'd be arrested, since they weren't allowed to interfere with the event. Still, shouts rang out: "Bring your buddies home! What's wrong with you?"

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A Families United member enjoys the show and the sunshine.

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The Stephensons: Semper Fi! A Marine, a Marine wife, and the 7-- count 'em, 7!-- cutest kids you've ever seen.

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The crowd.

It was a pleasure to spend time with these folks today, and I'll have video later this week. I talked to one Gold Star Wife who was willing to lay the smack down on Code Pink if need be. I talked to Gold Star Parents who assured me that their son, a 20-year-old Marine was not duped into his military service, as the anti-war Left likes to suggest of our servicemen and women. He wanted to "become a Marine," they said, and before he died, he called from Iraq to tell them he was "making a difference."

I met a National Guardsman with a wife and 6 kids who was recalled into service to fight in Iraq and deployed for 22 months. When I asked him why he still supports the mission, he told me, "I'm a patriot, and I understand the need when our security calls for soldiers."

It was a great day, and these guys spread a message that doesn't often get heard on the Hill.