VIRGINIA BEACH -- Jeffrey Zaun's bruised and swollen face haunts this summer resort city.

For many Americans, the sight of the Navy flier trembling on videotape filmed by his Iraqi captors provoked sorrow and anger. For the people of the Hampton Roads region, it was much more personal because the young lieutenant from Oceana Naval Air Station here is one of them -- he lived in their neighborhood, he worked out at their gym, he attended their church.

"I could kill that Hussein when I saw that," said Betty Esposito, 73, who never knew Zaun but clenches her fist and becomes teary-eyed at the thought of his suffering. "I was infuriated, I was so mad when I saw him beat up like that . . . . I would love to see that Hussein put down but good."

It remains unclear whether Zaun was brutalized by the Iraqis or was injured when his plane was shot down, but the distinction doesn't seem to matter much to people here.

At Wareing Gym, where Zaun was a member, people found the TV images of him "just shocking" and have begun ordering POW bracelets "just because we really want to be a part of it," said manager Tony Wareing.

About 40,000 sailors, soldiers and airmen from the area are in the Middle East as part of Operation Desert Storm.

From Oceana, a 47-year-old, 6,000-acre base, more than half of the 10,500 personnel and 350 F-14 Tomcats and A-6 Intruders have been deployed on aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf or Red Sea.

The fliers from Oceana have been in the thick of the war in the skies over Baghdad, and as a result, they were some of the first shot down. Their names resonate through the community: Zaun, 28, in captivity; Lt. Robert Wetzel, 30, shot down and missing; Lt. Lawrence R. Slade, 26, captured; Lt. Devon Jones, rescued after an eight-hour mission into hostile territory.

Two more Navy officers listed as missing on Thursday also are from Oceana: Lt. Patrick K. Cooper, 25, and Lt. Cmdr. Barry T. Cooke, 35.

There is nothing Nintendo about the Persian Gulf War here, no video-game detachment. Nameless, faceless men are not fighting this war; they are friends and family and neighbors.

When a pilot shoots down an enemy plane, folks here cheer loudest. When a downed pilot is recovered after a daring search-and-rescue operation, they sigh in relief. When Saddam Hussein parades prisoners of war on Iraqi television, they are outraged.

"It's just something that everybody is talking about all the time," said Tommy Griffiths, a morning disc jockey on popular rock station WNOR-FM. "People are so involved, it's like the entire community of Hampton Roads, either physically or emotionally, has been airlifted to the Middle East and we're fighting the war."

There is no question where local sentiment stands on the war. A poll taken in the days after the bombing began showed that 83 percent of area residents backed President Bush's decision to use force, slightly higher than the national level of support. And some here joke that the other 17 percent better stay invisible.

Flags and yellow ribbons are so much in demand that they are sold out at many shops.

At Lynnhaven Mall not far from Oceana, a huge U.S. flag hangs from the rafters over center court. Some of the best sellers at the Waldenbooks store are "Desert Shield -- The Build-Up: The Complete Story" and "First Air," a novel about a fictional air war over the Persian Gulf.

Desert Storm clothes are hot, including the latest shorts with "Storm 'Em" emblazoned across an eagle emblem on the front and "We're Behind You!" on the back.

Radio stations produce shows filled with songs requested for husbands and wives in the Middle East, and it's almost impossible to go an hour without hearing Lee Greenwood's song, "God Bless the USA."

Demonstrations in support of American troops have become weekly events; a POW/MIA flag has been raised over Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach. Last weekend, Griffiths and partner Henry Del Toro, known on the air as "The Bull," organized a flag-waving rally of a different sort: About 4,000 people held up colored poster boards on Mount Trashmore to form a living flag 225 feet long and 165 feet wide.

"I think a lot of people were champing at the bit looking for something they could do," Griffiths said. "It's not like World War II, where they could roll bandages."

In the past few weeks, some of the early kick-butt bravado has turned into a somber, resolute determination to see the war through.

"A lot of guys at work were saying, 'Gosh, I wish I could go over there and get my combat patch,' " said Army Staff Sgt. Terry Quinn, 34, a training instructor at Fort Story in Virginia Beach. "When it first started, probably four or five of {the 20 in the unit} were really gung-ho. Now it's kind of died down . . . . The reality is like, 'Jeez, people are captured, people are dying. That can happen to me.' That really began to sink in."

The feelings of ambivalence are even more intense at Oceana, where only six of 23 squadrons remain, and those left may soon join those already in the Middle East.

"A lot of guys are really gung-ho, really wishing they could be there," said Shane Swift, 19, a petty officer third class training to be an electronics technician. "I'm that way to a certain point -- but only a point."

His friend and fellow petty officer, Larry Slemp, 19, said those remaining feel a certain amount of guilt for not being in harm's way.

"I didn't join the Navy to fight, I joined for education," he said. "But you develop that camaraderie. You kind of hurt for them in a way, because they're going through hell and we're back here eating pizza."

In both the civilian and military worlds here, people follow all developments closely, watching CNN broadcasts to see if someone they know might be interviewed -- or shot down and missing.

"Every day the critical question is how many planes went down and who were they," said the Rev. William J. Dale, pastor at Church of the Ascension in Virginia Beach, where 150 of the 1,100 parishioners are in the Middle East. "There's a real sense of dread."

Dale's church struggles to find ways for people to express their concern. On a stone wall near the sanctuary, church members have written the names of as many as 400 friends and relatives serving as part of Desert Storm, and more names go up every day.

"There's never any gathering of people for any reason whatsoever that some mention -- usually in prayer -- isn't made of the men and women in the gulf," said Dale. "There's a numbing part of it. You'll hear the men speaking angrily. The women tend to be quieter . . . . It cuts both ways, but it affects everybody."

Dale recalled a young Oceana flier with orders to leave for the Middle East who went to the church about three weeks ago to make his peace.

They talked for several hours. "He said, 'I know that next week I'll be flying in that plane and I'll be called on to kill the enemy. I know it's my duty . . . but it's something I really wrestle with.' "

Virginia Beach Mayor Mayera E. Oberndorf, whose city has grown substantially in the past decade to become the largest in the state, said her community has come together like an old-fashioned, close-knit farm community with barn-raisings and people bringing food to those in trouble.

"People are very pro-troops," she said. "People are very committed to the idea that never again will we do what we did to the troops when they came home from Vietnam. Never again."