CORYDON -- The day after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein announced plans to free all foreign hostages in Iraq and Kuwait, Tom Tucker sat at the crowded counter at Jock's Lunch, the favorite noontime gathering place here.

"If we've got to stop him, let's get on with it and get it done," he said firmly. "I don't think we can back down."

Then the 55-year-old certified public accountant paused to reflect on what not backing down might eventually mean. "I hope it can be resolved without any bloodshed," he said.

Tucker's ambivalence is widely shared in this community of 2,800, a slice of small-town America set amid the gently rolling hills north of the Ohio River. There continues to be strong support here for President Bush's overall policy in the Persian Gulf and for the decision to send more than 400,000 troops to Saudi Arabia. Townspeople frequently described Saddam as a "bully" who has to be stopped.

"I wouldn't question anything the president has done so far," said Blaine H. Wiseman, 79, the retired president of the Old Capital Bank and Trust Co. "Any time a bully captures another country, we can't let that happen."

To liquor store owner Joe Evitts, 51, the United States already has hesitated too long in confronting the Iraqi dictator.

"I think there should have been more drastic action taken immediately," he said. "Give him a deadline and bomb his ass. . . . There is no reason in the world for a country this size to let someone bully them, especially when they have the world's support."

But Evitts's outspoken advocacy of military action is not typical here, and support for Bush's policy is tempered by a clear reluctance to plunge into war in another remote part of the world. That reluctance is most often expressed in repeated references to Vietnam.

"As bad as the experience was in Vietnam, it seems we should try every alternative to all-out war," said Ron Simpson, 45, the Harrison County prosecuting attorney in Corydon, which is the county seat and was the first capital of Indiana from 1813 to 1825. "The country should move really cautiously."

Joy Lindauer, 54, who writes for the weekly Corydon Democrat, said she has heard disturbing echoes of the early 1960s in some of the official justifications for the massive deployment in the Saudi Arabian desert. "I thought, 'Oh, no, here we go again,' " she said.

Vietnam is also frequently cited as an example of how not to fight a war if it comes to that.

"You can't treat this like a police action," Tucker said. "If you're going to go to war, you go to win. I think we learned that in Korea and Vietnam."

If war does come to the Persian Gulf, this and thousands of other small towns across the country will be directly affected. Last week, Vi Eckart, director of the Corydon Public Library, invited townspeople to display ribbons in tribute to friends and relatives serving in the gulf. Two days later, there were six ribbons hanging outside the library, including one bearing the name of Air Force Staff Sgt. Frank James Crawford Jr.

"I don't know why we're over there," said Crawford's sister, Buffy, 18, a freshman at nearby Indiana University-Southeast who works at the library. "I wish he was home." A red, white and blue ribbon also hangs outside the Haircrafters Studio, operated by Fredia Naegele, 46. It has been there since Aug. 13 when Naegele's 19-year-old son, Airman Todd Naegele, arrived in Saudi Arabia with the first wave of the U.S. deployment. "I hope and pray every day that we don't have war," she said. "But in the back of my mind something is telling me that's the only way out of this." Her pessimism, shared by others, was eased somewhat by Saddam's announcement that Iraq would free its hostages. That prompted Cliff Limeberry, 70, who is retired from the lumber business and devotes his time to a string of harness-racing horses, to say, "I think we're making a little headway."

"For the first time, I'm encouraged we may pull this off without a war," he added.