Staff photo by Matt Wilson
A participant in a counter-protest at Walter Reed Army Medical Center signs a Tennessee-centric banner that contains a message denouncing President Barack Obama's health care plan.
Staff photo by Matt Wilson
Counter-protesters wave signs outside Walter Reed Army Medical Center Friday to show support for troops. Other protesters down the street called for troops to come home now.
WASHINGTON -- Car horns and police sirens blared Friday evening as hundreds gathered along the sidewalks outside Walter Reed Army Medical Center to counter-protest against protesters who have been demonstrating outside the hospital for nearly five years.
"Code Pink always has a protest every Friday evening down the street," said Shirley Patterson, organizer of the group of Chattanooga Tea Party members who traveled to the nation's capital. "This is a counter-protest to show them that we support our troops."
Police lined the streets to keep order and cars driving by honked -- for both groups -- for several hours. The crowd of counter-protesters erupted every time a Walter Reed van or ambulance drove by.
A good portion of that group came from Volunteer State, and many signed two banners that read "Don't tread on Tennessee." Other signs displayed messages such as, "Thank you to our troops. You did not falter, you did not fail."
Wes Sims of Oak Ridge, Tenn., said Friday night's protest was the second he ever attended. He said he came to Washington mainly for today's march on the National Mall, which being held is to oppose federal spending, but said he was compelled to come to Walter Reed as well.
"(The organizers) said there were some protesters who were anti-troops, anti-military, and I wanted to come for that," he said.
Down the street but still in front of the hospital building, a much smaller group of protesters held up signs with slogans such as "All troops home now."
Bruce Wolf, who is from the Washington area, said he's been coming to protest at Walter Reed for four-and-a-half years. He said he wasn't anti-military.
"We're here for the troops," he said.
Mr. Wolf said he and others had noticed that troops were being brought to the hospital and dropped off outside. He said the protests were meant to stand up against that treatment, gain benefits for the troops and bring the soldiers home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Wolf also said his protest group was not organized by Code Pink, a mostly female anti-war organization, though members have participated.
Peter Tucker, also from the Washington area and another member of the protest group, said he had just joined the protests. He said he responded to an e-mail asking for help, and likewise said he was there to protest against how wounded soldiers are treated.
But Ron Harwell of Rockwood, Tenn., said he didn't buy that.
"Unless they're in there, how would they know?" he asked.
Mr. Harwell said he receives treatment at the U.S. Veterans Administration hospital in Asheville, N.C., and receives good treatment there. He said he thought their argument was just an excuse to protest.
As for the protesters' argument about bringing the troops home now, Mr. Harwell said he agreed in part.
"I would like to bring the troops home under a victory flag," he said.
Thousands are set to gather on the National Mall today to protest federal spending. Several dozen Chattanooga-area residents will participate in the national march.