Thousands including carpenters, firefighters rally near ground zero in Associated Press |

Thousands including carpenters, firefighters rally near ground zero in Associated Press

NEW YORK — Thousands of construction workers and firefighters packed a noontime rally at ground zero Thursday in support of the war in Iraq which, to many of them, began right there on Sept. 11, 2001.

The rally stretched for several blocks north from the World Trade Center site. Carpenters, electricians and firefighters carried American flags and homemade signs and chanted “USA! USA!”

Police and organizers estimated the crowd at more than 15,000. The rally was sponsored by the Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

Many speakers and participants described the war as a natural outcome of the World Trade Center attack, drawing little distinction between the terrorist group al-Qaida and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

“The war started right here on Sept. 11, 2001,” Gov. George Pataki said.

Fire Lt. Kenny O’Brien, whose Harlem firehouse lost two members in the attack, agreed. “This is the most appropriate spot in the world to make this statement,” he said.

Like many in the crowd, carpenter Jimmy Nolan said he saw the rally as a counterpoint to anti-war demonstrations that have drawn hundreds of thousands to the city’s streets and parks.

“We got tired of those protesters always arguing against the war,” he said. He said he spent 11 months excavating the trade center site and repairing shattered windows in surrounding buildings.

A sea of hard hats and red-white-and-blue bandanas stretched along West Street from the trade center site.

“There’s more people here than in my home state of Kansas,” former Republican Sen. Bob Dole said.

Many in the crowd were veterans or relatives of service members on duty in Iraq. Some carried pictures of their family members in uniform. Others carried military banners.

“I was in Vietnam, and we never had support like this,” sheet metal worker Jim Pruitt said.