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Utahns rally to salute troops

When a loved one leaves for active military duty, friends and family say a constant worry sets in. Then loneliness. And sometimes, financial hardship.

Nevertheless, an estimated 500 people gathered at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Wednesday to honor the troops serving in the Iraq war, support President Bush and protest the anti-war protesters. The event was organized by Johnson and Johnson, the morning show hosts on country music station "K-Bull" (KUBL FM-93.3).

"The main tone here in Utah is that whatever President Bush says we need to do, we're going to do it; even if it means (sacrificing) our fathers and brothers for a while," said Joe Johnson. "I have not talked to a protester yet."

Joe Johnson said he and on-air partner Tommy Johnson daily receive e-mails and phone calls from listeners in support of the troops. They shared some of those messages Wednesday night.

"I know it's a cliche — freedom isn't free. What you have to do as a human being, as a member of the United States, is put yourself in someone else's shoes. They are heroes," Tommy Johnson said.

The hourlong event featured a live band, presentation of the colors with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem led by Salt Lake Police detective Kevin Joiner.

People penned messages on banners that will be sent to troops in the Middle East.

"I'm proud of you. God bless you. Come back soon. Dad," wrote Sergio Palacios, who hadn't heard from his son, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Gabriel Palacios, since he was deployed six weeks ago.

"His wife is six months pregnant," Sergio Palacios said. "Yes, we are scared."

Seven family members sported T-shirts with the picture of Tech Sgt. Laurence Hunt, a reservist with the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, deployed somewhere in the Middle East.

"We don't know where he's at," said his wife, Shawnna Hunt. "I'm worried every day. I barely got my first e-mail. He just said he loves this. He's safe. He wants us to write him."

"With all the anti-war rallies, we want to show support for the troops," said Staff Sgt. Regan Kimbro, who attended the event with friends from Hill Air Force Base.

"At least don't spit on the troops. That's all I ask. People don't have enough information" to decry the president, added Sgt. Maxine Miller.

K-Bull program director Ed Hill said Johnson and Johnson began organizing the event late Friday and only had about four days to promote it. He was happy with the large number of people who attended.

"We saw all (the protesting) and don't like all the protesting. It doesn't matter if you are for or against the war. What matters is your brothers, sisters, mothers are out there putting it on the line," he said.


E-mail: lhancock@desnews.com