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Men and women have gathered weekly since January 2006 to support American troops.

After 573 weeks, the men and women who have gathered each Saturday morning on the southwest corner of Route 108 and Georgia Avenue held their final “victory rally” on Jan. 21.
On that cool and rainy morning, about a dozen folks stood at the corner, amidst flags, banners and patriotic music from a cassette player.
As motorists drove by, many honked their horns and waved to show their support, just as they have for more than a decade.
Former Olney resident Phil Wilk has led the charge for the weekly rallies, organized through www.FreeRepublic.com, which he describes as “a conservative blog.”
“Back in the early 2000s, protesters started protesting the war,” he said. “Vietnam vets vowed never to let other vets go home and get spat on like they did and never to let protesters go unchallenged.”
Wilk is not a veteran, but his wife Heather served in the U.S. Army. His son, two grandsons and two nephews have served or are serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Wilk said that after noticing a group of anti-war supporters rallying at the Olney intersection, he organized another group, which first rallied in January 2006.
Phil and Heather Wilk are joined by supporters from near and far and the numbers have fluctuated. Several members of local American Legion Post 68 participate, along with other regulars from as far away as Hagerstown and Virginia. There are a few semi-regulars, along with other random folks that show up and join in.
Wilk said they have rallied nearly every Saturday, through the blistering heat, rain and snow.
In 2012, Wilk moved from Olney. He now makes the drive each week from Mechanicsville, in southern Maryland.
Halsey Smith, commander of the American Legion, sometimes joins Wilk’s rally, along with fellow legion members.
“Phil has been out there almost every single week,” Smith said. “Talk about dedication.”
For Wilk, it is not just dedication — it is a sense of responsibility.
“During the Bush years, we wanted to counter the opposition, since there was more out there,” he said. “And during the Obama years, the troops weren’t getting the support they deserved. Between that and wanting to support my family members, it was not hard to be out there on that corner every week. It was good seeing other like-minded people and a nice social atmosphere.”
The anti-war protesters, on the opposite corner, also showed up week after week until this past fall.
Despite differing viewpoints, Wilk said, both rallies were always civil.
In addition to the Saturday morning rallies in Olney, Wilk and his “Support the Troops” ralliers also gathered on Friday nights at Walter Reed Army Hospital from 2006 to 2011.
“It was a bigger group and more vocal,” said Wilk. “There was also a lot of anti-war opposition.”
Even though the weekly rallies have come to an end, Wilk is not ready to retire his flags, banners and cassette player just yet.
“We plan to occasionally stand out on the corner to continue to show our support,” he said. “And if the opposition comes back, then we will be ready.”

Terri Hogan can be reached at [email protected].

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