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LAFALCE RECEIVES ANTI-WAR MESSAGE MAJORITY AT TOWN MEETING IN TONAWANDA BASH BUSH OVER GULF CRISIS

Midway through the jam-packed town meeting, a Tonawanda man rose to his feet Saturday and defended the U.S. role in the Middle East.

"What should the president do," he asked, "take the troops out of there?"

"Yes, yes," shouted the crowd as an outburst of applause filled the room.

With that, a majority of the 300 people attending the meeting in Tonawanda made clear their opposition to a U.S.-Iraqi war.

The reasons were varied but the anti-war advocates were loud in their wish to wait until war becomes a last resort.

"I feel (Bush) should be stopped," said Margit Pollard of the City of Tonawanda.

With Rep. John J. LaFalce listening, speaker after speaker expressed frustration with Bush's reasons for sending troops overseas.

Some accused him of using the military to keep oil prices low while others questioned his plan for an offensive attack without first allowing time for sanctions to work.

"I think it's important for President Bush to give us a good reason to be there," said Donna Tronolone, who has a husband in the gulf region.

Fearful of another Vietnam War, Mrs. Tronolone said she wants only one thing from Bush: an explanation for why her husband is away from home. If given a sound reason, she thinks the public would support a war.

A handful of people stood behind Bush. They compared Sadaam Hussein to Hitler and blamed the possibility of war on Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

"The issue here is about honor, justice and righteousness," said William C. Rott Jr. "The suggestion that (Bush) is for war is ridiculous."

Les Smith of Tonawanda spoke of two brothers, one killed in World War II, the other seriously injured, and of his young son serving in the Persian Gulf. He wants Congress to support the U.S. military effort to ensure a united front against Iraq.

"I suggest Congress make a sincere effort to meet with the president and issue a joint statement of policy," he said.

But Rott and Smith were outnumbered.

"President Bush wants a war, and I can't understand why," said Fred Brown of the Town of Tonawanda. "Body bags are going over to Saudi Arabia like you won't believe, and they'll come back full."

The image of young men and women dying on the battlefield was apparent in everyone's comments.

"I don't think (Bush) has a vision on education or the environment," said Ron Kolb of Buffalo. "I'm afraid his vision is planeloads of body bags and lines of coffins."

Perhaps the most passionate pleas came from the spouses of two men in the gulf.

One woman spoke of her husband's letters home and of the low morale among the soldiers overseas.

"The morale is not up over there," said Kelly Sekuterski of Kenmore. "We need to rotate the troops."

Another woman said her husband's extended stay has left her family in financial and emotional ruin.

"My husband is one of the poker chips being played out over there," she said. "My life is falling apart."

The overwhelming response was not lost on LaFalce, who sponsored the meeting at the Philip Sheridan School, 3200 Elmwood Ave., Town of Tonawanda.

LaFalce promised to return to the capital with a strong message for Bush and other members of Congress.

Like many in the audience, LaFalce said he disagreed with the U.N. Security Council measure authorizing military action if Iraq fails to withdraw from Kuwait by Jan. 15.

Economic sanctions could take a year or more to work, he said, and therefore need more time to be effective.

"I can go to Washington and tell Congress that my constituents reinforced my convictions on this issue," LaFalce told the crowd. "War should be the option of last resort and we are nowhere near the last resort."

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