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Veterans Urge Support for Troops : Rally: At Cal State Fullerton, students gathered to listen and criticize Saddam Hussein’s withdrawal conditions.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Like many Americans, Cal State Fullerton sophomore Claudia Mendez had a brief glimmer of hope Friday when she heard news reports that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had offered to pull his troops out of Kuwait.

“I was so happy, the first thing I thought was that my 18-year-old brother wouldn’t have to go,” Mendez said. “But then later, they said it was a hoax and I thought, ‘Oh well, back to the same thing again.’ ”

That celebration short-lived, the international-business major from Los Angeles spent her lunch hour at a campus pro-war rally sponsored by the Cal State Fullerton Conservative College Republicans. More than 100 people filtered through the quadrangle where the rally was held, listening to speeches by Vietnam veterans who urged the students to support the troops.

Flanked by American flags, yellow ribbons and a picture of the Iraqi president labeled “Adolf” Hussein, the veterans related their war experiences to the students.

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“I don’t give a damn if you support what this country is doing over there or not,” said one veteran, who identified himself as Rob Robson of Yorba Linda. “But you damn well better support your troops.”

That theme was echoed by L. David Mendoza, president of the student organization. “Years ago, students like us protested against the war and for nostalgic reasons, they’re doing it again,” said Mendoza, labeling anti-war protesters “traitors.”

“The war is an American issue, not a Republican issue,” said the 21-year-old Eastern European studies major.

Throughout the 90-minute rally, curious students, many on their way to class, stopped to listen to the speeches. Some, such as Buck Chell, 22, a political science major, were overcome with emotion, standing in line at the podium to hug the veterans.

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“I’m really glad that we’re doing this. It’s a great way to show support for the troops,” Chell said. “I just wish there were more students here.”

Mendoza and other members of the conservative student group lashed out at Hussein for a cease-fire proposal that President Bush has labeled “a cruel hoax.”

Hussein’s offer briefly raised hopes around the world early Friday that the war might soon come to an end. But the jubilation ended after a few short hours when it became evident that Hussein’s withdrawal offer hinged on conditions that the President has steadfastly maintained are not negotiable. Among other conditions, Hussein called for the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and pledges by the allies to finance postwar recovery in Iraq.

“I wouldn’t believe anything Hussein said until he is dead,” Mendoza said. “I think only his death will bring about the truth.”

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Ken Lomenzo , 23, a pre-medicine major from Yorba Linda, was also critical of the Hussein offer.

“I thought it was ridiculous,” Lomenzo said. “At first, I had a feeling of relief but then when I heard about all of the conditions, I thought it was just a lot of propaganda.”

Ed Kim, 21, an accounting major from Monterey Park, agreed.

“I don’t think we should go for any compromises,” Kim said. “I’d like for the war to be over but we went in there with something to do and we have to do it.”

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