Lauren Fritsche was well-aware of why she spent Sunday afternoon in Capaha Park, holding a sign rather than playing on the playground equipment.
"Because my daddy's in Iraq," the 5-year-old said shyly, her sign reading, "My daddy's in Iraq: God bless him." When asked how that made her feel, she was ready with an answer.
Lauren Fritsche was among at least 50 people who gathered Sunday afternoon at the Freedom Corner at Broadway and West End Boulevard to express the simple message "We love our troops." No one protested or debated their political leanings, and car horns honked gleefully rather than disdainfully.
"This is war, and they're over there," said war veteran Charles James, 59, of Cape Girardeau. "And we want to tell them that we love them."
The rally was sponsored by no one, only coordinated by Matt Dunn, 24, of Jackson, who serves in the ROTC of Southeast Missouri State University. The idea came shortly after the 1140th Engineer Battalion was deployed in February, he said.
"I wanted to bring the family members of the 1140th together with local military operations to boost morale and show support for deployed service men and women," Dunn said, explaining that many of the families present had never lived through deployment and needed the support of people who could relate to them.
The Fritsche family of Perryville is such a case. Brett Fritsche, 29, was recalled with the 1140th and has been serving in the National Guard for the last five years.
"It's been hard trying to take care of the kids on my own and having to do everything myself," said Jennifer Fritsche, Lauren's 24-year-old mother. Even Lauren's 16-month-old brother, Peyton, realizes that his father is gone.
"He does remember him," Jennifer said. "He picks up his picture and says 'Da-da.'" And he even kisses the photo.
Dorothy Points, a member of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary 3838, has had similar experiences.
"I know how they're feeling," she said, explaining that she was pregnant with her first child when her first husband, Joe Krueger, served during the Korean War. She had to manage house payments and raising an infant during the year that he served. Currently, her daughter Libby Billham is in the Air Force at Charleston, S.C., and her son-in-law, Darrell Billham, is serving in Iraq, also with the Air Force.
Point's advice: "The answer is prayer and that you stay united for our country and for our families."
She is currently coordinating a chicken-and-dumpling fund raiser. All proceeds will help send supplies that cannot be bought in the Middle East, such as bug spray, and it will help families whose incomes have been affected while the troops are serving.
Anthony Morrison, 30, of Cape Girardeau knows of at least four co-workers who have gone to Iraq. The Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., has had several people serve in Iraq since February 2003, he said.
He attended the rally because he had served eight years in the military, and he takes every opportunity he can to back the troops, he said.
"It doesn't matter if they believe in the cause," Morrison said. "They're over there following orders. They're doing what their country asked them to do and you can't fault them for doing what they're asked to do."
335-6611 extension 127