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Elder Statesmen of Peace : Leisure World Activists Join Anti-War March in Los Angeles

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Don’t expect them to don tie-dyed shirts, love beads and granny glasses. This group of anti-war activists is more likely to wave American flags, display their military dog tags and wear bifocals.

The Concerned Citizens for Peace in Leisure World do not fit the stereotype of war protesters, but they are unwavering voices against the Persian Gulf War.

On Saturday, 45 of them joined protesters across the Southland in a march and peace rally in front of Los Angeles City Hall. The Laguna Hills group has been active in the Mideast peace campaign since August, when Iraqi tanks rolled into Kuwait.

Before the United States began its offensive against Iraq on Jan. 16, members circulated 12,000 postcards in Orange County, asking residents to urge President Bush to give sanctions more time. The group sent letters to all 535 members of Congress, and dozens of members called congressional leaders.

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Concerned Citizens for Peace was founded 10 years ago, when eight retirees decided to work toward stopping nuclear proliferation. The group now has 705 members. Over the years, they have spoken out against apartheid, advocated peace in the Middle East and condemned U.S. involvement in Central America.

Co-chairman Bernard Feldman said the group is nonpartisan and has Republican and Democratic members.

But the group has critics in this retirement community of 21,000 that is often regarded as a bulwark of the Republican Party--and conservatism.

“I think they’re a small, outspoken minority,” said Bud Kerney, 75, a former lieutenant colonel in the Indiana National Guard. “They’re doing a disservice to the military. Our boys in the gulf hear about these people and think that they’re not being supported.”

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“I don’t believe anyone is in favor of going to war,” said Fay Bruner, an 80-year-old resident and former president of the Republican Club in Leisure World. “But what they’re doing is not right. We should not be on the streets. I’ve lived through five wars, and I’ve always been very loyal to our country.”

Members of Concerned Citizens are quick to point out that they too are patriotic and that several of them are veterans. At a recent anti-war protest, several members displayed their military dog tags while holding banners proclaiming “Peace Is Patriotic.”

In fact, many of the elderly peace activists said they advocate peace because they have witnessed the horrors of war.

“I’ve seen the destruction of war firsthand, the stupidity of it all,” said Dr. Philip Ellison, 76, a retired dentist and World War II Army captain. “War destroys homes, families, lives. . . . We need to avoid it at all costs.”

Rosemary Gould, a retired Army first lieutenant who was a nutritionist during World War II, proudly wears her dog tags at peace vigils. Her experiences treating wounded soldiers, she said, are responsible for her being a peace activist.

Gould is one of Concerned Citizens’ most active members. Last year, the group paid part of her expenses for a one-month stay in Nicaragua, where she observed the country’s elections.

“After that experience and my travels in Central America, I’ll never be the same again,” she said. “It also helps me to make a connection to the Middle East. We created Saddam Hussein just like we created Noriega,” referring to former Panama President Manuel A. Noriega.

“We also have grandchildren and relatives in the gulf,” Gould said. “We too are concerned about them not coming back.”

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Feldman and Gould said the Gulf War dampened their members’ morale. Some elderly activists were staging a peace vigil at the intersection of El Toro Road and Moulton Parkway in Laguna Hills when they learned that war had started. Several broke down in tears, and organizers stopped the vigil so demonstrators could hurry home to monitor TV.

A mood of dejection pervaded the lounge of the clubhouse, where about 300 members gathered Tuesday night for the monthly meeting.

“I know we’re caught between Iraq and a hard place,” Feldman said, trying to ease the tension in the room. A few people chuckled.

“Some feel it’s time to melt in the background because we have lost” the campaign for peace, he continued, “but I refuse to feel responsible for the deaths that are occurring now. We need to support our troops by bringing them back home.”

After a brief address by UC Irvine Assistant Professor Robert Wesley Jr., speaker after speaker walked slowly to the microphone to express opinions. The consensus: They are upset that President Bush did not give sanctions more time, and they want Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and all American troops home.

The mood brightened as activists lined up to reserve seats on the “peace bus” going to the demonstration in Los Angeles on Saturday. Many said that venting their anger had been therapy for the depression they have felt since the outbreak of hostilities.

“We have to make one final plea,” Feldman told the audience. “Let us all try to convince our leaders that we should pause for peace.”


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