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San Clemente Wrapped Up in Events of War

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It seemed like any other Sunday on the calendar.

Yolanda Vicario and Jacque Agliani enjoyed the warm Southern California sun as they strolled along the pier.

Preschool teacher Cindy Atkins wrote a letter, and teen-agers Sandra Yearry and Tiffany Katzmark went to a local hardware store, looking for yellow ribbon.

And a group of Marines organized a football game on the beach.

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But despite appearances, they each knew this day was different.

As allied forces in the Persian Gulf War began their ground assault into enemy territory, residents of this seaside city of 40,000 could not forget the war. All of them have been touched by the events occurring half a world away.

In San Clemente, just at the northern gates of Camp Pendleton, even those who do not know anyone in the military are affected. They have seen the Marines in restaurants and on the beaches, and they have heard the whirring of helicopters as they practiced their maneuvers.

Streets here are lined with U.S. flags, trees are decorated with yellow ribbons, and merchants display red, white and blue colors in storefront windows.

“When you are from this town,” Agliani said, “it’s like family.”

And so on Sunday, a town wondered whether the start of ground troop movement signaled the end of the war--or just the beginning.

“I feel kind of guilty being here on the beach,” Marine Cpl. Kevin Lindecamp said as he sat on a sidewalk curb across the street from the beach. But unless the war ends soon, he knew that it would be only a matter of weeks before he joins the battlefield.

Lindecamp and his friends were guardedly optimistic about the early military successes of the ground war.

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“We’ve still got a long way to go,” Cpl. Jay Hollinger said. “It’s just the begining stages.”

After playing football on the beach with another group of Marines, Brett Baker, a Navy corpsman, said he hopes that everyone returns home safely.

“My best friend is there, and I have been thinking about him a lot,” Baker said.

Yearry and Katzmark also were thinking about war as they emerged from the hardware store with yellow ribbons and small American flags.

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“I sure hope we kick his (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s) butt and get back out,” Yearry said.

The display of yellow ribbons is especially meaningful to Atkins, who organized the effort to place ribbons on trees along Avenida del Mar. Her husband, David, fighting in the Gulf, also fought in the Vietnam War, and he witnessed the lack of public support for returning veterans.

Atkins said the campaign for the yellow ribbons is her way of ensuring that her husband and others will be welcomed home when the war ends.

But for now, no end is in sight.

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On Sunday, she wrote a letter to no one in particular, describing how she felt when another military wife called to tell her that the ground war had begun. The letter was Atkins’ way of coping with the news.

“OK. Now it’s official and I cry,” the letter stated. “Tears roll down my face. She (her friend) tries to comfort me with her words but I feel so alone.”

Vicario also will be writing letters soon.

After a chance encounter with a group of servicemen in a local bar this weekend, Vicario said she promised to write to them while they are away.

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“They were partying pretty hard because they think they are not coming back,” she said. “My heart went out to them because they are scared to death.”

Another group of Marines also was partying Sunday at a local restaurant on the San Clemente Pier overlooking the ocean.

As they drank beer and told jokes, they stoically debated whether the early reported successes of the ground war were real or just a ruse by Hussein.

“I think they are trying to suck us in so they can use their gas chemicals,” Lance Cpl. Oscar Hinojosa said.

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Added Cpl. Elton Fowler: “I don’t know what to think because they are not giving us enough information.”

But all of them said they are ready to get it over with.

“We either want to go home or we want to go to Saudi (Arabia),” Cpl. Paul Johnson of Texas said. “We just want to get out of Camp Pendleton.”


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