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April 12, 2003
 
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Small Ill. Town Has Big Stake in Iraq War
At Least 12 Soldiers From Small Town of North Pekin, Illinois Are Deployed to Iraq War

The Associated Press


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NORTH PEKIN, Ill. April 13

The first weeks of spring have brought nearly as much yellow as green to this small working-class town along the banks of the Illinois River.

Yellow ribbons have bloomed on every utility pole, and on most houses and businesses, as North Pekin anxiously waits out a war that has touched virtually everyone in the village of 1,400.

At least 12 hometown soldiers are in the military nearly one for every 100 residents giving the war personal stakes in a town where "most everyone knows everyone else," said village secretary Cindy Briggs.

With six soldiers in Iraq and three others waiting to be deployed, the village's mood has been both "nervous and supportive," Mayor Bill Clutts said.

"They're nervous that we might have casualties but supportive of their efforts," he said.

The small-town, "family-type atmosphere" has been a boost for families with relatives in the war, said Gary Foster, whose stepson, Benjamin Beyer, is a Navy medic in Iraq.

"In little towns, people pull together more. I wouldn't say they worry more because anybody who has family over there is worried about them," Foster said.

Foster's stepson inadvertently inspired the pro-troops effort that has dotted North Pekin with thousands of yellow ribbons and bows over the past three weeks.

In a letter home, Beyer wrote that he was angry about anti-war rallies, saying protesters don't realize "we are risking our lives for them I mean so Saddam doesn't use any dirty bombs on American soil."

While paying his water bill at the village hall, Foster mentioned the letter to Briggs, who teamed with Village Clerk Judy Johnson to launch the yellow ribbon campaign.

"We wanted to do whatever we could to show the troops and the families of the troops that we may not all agree with the war, but we support them," Briggs said.

"Sometimes, a person just has to think, `What can I do?' And I think that's one of the things that's wrong with the United States right now. People don't care about the other person," said Briggs, her eyes welling with tears.

North Pekin also has showcased its hometown soldiers by posting their names in the front window of the village hall, framed by red-white-and-blue pennants and accented with yellow bows.

The town is not alone, of course. Several other small Illinois towns have sent multiple young people to the military.

Like many other cities, townspeople also are collecting supplies for local soldiers. Six boxes have been mailed off, and new donations are overtaking the office shared by the village's mayor and clerk.

The support-the-troops efforts have become a source of pride in North Pekin, sandwiched between Pekin and Marquette Heights on the outskirts of Peoria.

"Too many times, people aren't appreciated for what they do," said Ike Payton, an owner of Denny's Restaurant, a popular gathering spot in the village.

Others are glad to see people rallying for the troops rather than against the war.

"I think the people protesting should be sent over there to Iraq," said Tony Bohm of North Pekin, whose brother is deployed in the Middle East.

"Let them go over there and see how those people live and see how they like it," added Dennis Walker, also of North Pekin.

Foster said he has written to his stepson about North Pekin's troop-support efforts but hasn't heard back from him since the war began. He suspects Beyer and other soldiers would be pleased by the community's backing.

"I think the idea that people back here support them would lift their morale," said Foster, an Air Force veteran.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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