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Coast Guard Graduates 217 New Officers, Protesters Gather to Mark Cheney's Visit
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Vice President Dick Cheney addresses the Coast Guard Academy: Photo By Chion WolfVice President Dick Cheney addresses the Coast Guard Academy: Photo By Chion WolfMore than 200 cadets graduated in the Coast Guard Academy's class of 2008.

Vice President Dick Cheney delivered the commencement address in New London. He reminded the new Ensigns that they are America's lifesavers and guardians of the seas.

Here are two reports from the event:

A 19-gun salute announced Vice President Cheney's arrival on the Commencement stage at the Coast Guard Academy's Memorial Field.

217 cadets sat before him dressed in gleaming white uniforms. The class represents thirty-nine states, and the US Virgin Islands and included three international students from Thailand, Tunisia, and Lithuania.

Cheney wore a dark suit and a stetson hat. He started his address with a little humor.

Coast Guard Ensigns, with their diplomas and comissions in hand: Photo By Chion WolfCoast Guard Ensigns, with their diplomas and comissions in hand: Photo By Chion Wolf
"In my final year as Vice President, it's an honor to visit this historic Academy to see the corp of cadets and meet the newest officers of the US Coast Guard, class of 2008. I can't help be a little jealous of the cadets today. After all, you'll still have a job eight months from now."

Cheney speech focused largely on the role of the Coast Guard and how the young graduates are a vital in protecting the United States especially in times of disaster and distress.

"During your own time at the Academy, the Coast Guard distinguished itself when Hurricane Katrina swept in from the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard rescued 33,000 people."

The Vice President also reminded the new officers that they arrived at the Academy as Freshmen during a time of war and are now graduating into the same circumstance.

Cheney told the Ensigns and their families sitting in the bleachers behind them that the country must remain committed to its efforts in the Middle East

"We are doing good things for the right reason. Our new strategy in Iraq with a surge operations that began more than a year ago have succeeded brilliantly. The only way to lose this fight is to quit and that would be irresponsible. More than that, quitting would be an act of betrayal and dishonor and it's not going to happen on our watch."

Cheney's speech received polite applause but the climactic moment for the graduates came at the final moments of commencement.

"Ensigns of the class of 2008, you may now divest yourself of the symbols of cadet life."

Here, all 217 white cadet caps flew into the air as two coast guard aircraft soared over the graduation audience.

As the families flooded onto the field to hug their sons and daughters, Ensign Eric Laurel from Oregon summed up his excitement to start his service with the United States Coast Guard.

"First, I can't believe I made it this far and I have these shoulder boards. But I'm really excited to get out to the fleet and save some lives and bust some drugs."

Protesters marched from downtown New London to the Coast Guard Academy: Photo by Shomial AhmadProtesters marched from downtown New London to the Coast Guard Academy: Photo by Shomial Ahmad
During the commencement more than a hundred anti-war demonstrators gathered outside the entrance to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. They were protesting Vice President Cheney's presence.

John Murphy stood silently with other members of Connecticut Opposes the War. Their posters spoke for them. War is death. Dick Cheney War criminal. Peace Now.

"We are silent today in our protest against Dick Cheney being here and the war in Iraq. We are mourning the deaths of over four thousand American military personnel and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians."

Assembled across the street were more than a dozen counter-protestors from the Gathering of Eagles, a pro-military group. They yelled at the Cheney protestors, calling them hippies and uneducated fools.

"Why is it the only time you protest is against your own country?"

Jim Bancroft, the Connecticut coordinator of the Gathering of Eagles says his group was there to support the graduating cadets.

Larry Bailey, Chairman of A Gathering of Eagles: Photo by Shomial AhmadLarry Bailey, Chairman of A Gathering of Eagles: Photo by Shomial Ahmad
"Regardless of what your political views are, making a statement that is negative in any sort of way at a solemn occasion like this is extremely disrepectful."

Chris Grohs, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, came last year to protest President Bush's speaking at the Academy. And he returned this year to join the silent demonstration.

"The idea was just to be a little bit more respectful. Last year it was kind of like a back and forth when President Bush came."

Grohs says this year's protests were smaller, on both sides. After about an hour of standing in the sun, the anti-war protesters gathered their posters, and marched back to their gathering point at the Soldiers' and Sailors' War monument in downtown New London.

Go to WNPR's Flickr site to see more pictures of the Commencement or the Protests.