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