NORFOLK -- On the day of the United Nations deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, about 50 anti-war demonstrators who had gathered near City Hall were greeted by jeers and obscene gestures from many passing motorists.

Days later, after the massive U.S.-led bombing raids on Baghdad had started, about 75 flag-waving supporters of Operation Desert Storm clustered in Town Point Park about two blocks from the earlier rally. They drew near-unanimous cheers and honking from those driving by.

"Take that, San Francisco!" shouted one pro-military demonstrator.

If San Francisco, scene of some of the biggest protests against American involvement in the Middle East crisis, has become the capital of the nascent anti-war movement, Norfolk sees itself as the counterbalance capital of promilitary sentiment.

Not pro-war, they like to emphasize here, but pro-troops.

"This is a military town," said demonstrator Adam Jones, a 19-year-old student at Old Dominion University who was carrying an American flag. "We support what they're doing over there."

With about 40,000 sailors, soldiers and airmen from several local military bases deployed in the Middle East -- nearly 10 percent of the total U.S. force -- the Hampton Roads region is intimately involved in the Persian Gulf War.

Among the top guns in the skies over Baghdad are jet jockeys from Langley Air Force Base outside Hampton and Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. Many of the bombers and Tomahawk missiles shredding Iraqi military installations have been launched by ships based at the Norfolk Naval Station, the world's largest naval base. The first fighter pilot to shoot down an Iraqi plane was Capt. Steven W. Tate, from Langley.

And at least two of the airmen declared missing in action, Lt. Robert Wetzel and Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun, are from Oceana.

Around here, the signs of support are everywhere: from the city Christmas lights that will remain up until the troops return home, to the flags placed on every car on the lot of the Virginia Beach Motor Co., to the yellow ribbons adorning everything from Scott Memorial United Methodist Church to J.B.'s Gallery of Girls.

"Our Thoughts and Prayers Are With You, Operation Desert Storm," said a sign outside Coliseum Mall near Langley. "Good Luck, U.S. Troops in Kuwait," said another outside the Almost-a-Banc check-cashing business near the Norfolk navy base.

Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III said during a visit to Virginia Beach a few days before the war began that he did not know of another community in the nation that had shown so much support for its military men and women.

While local residents began to question the wisdom of attacking in the weeks leading up to the war, most rallied around President Bush after the war began and, in good military fashion, fell back on faith that the commander-in-chief knows best.

"Whenever there's a big issue around here, a law-and-order, war-and-peace issue, they want . . . an answer and they want to know it's right and not question it," said Sara Trexler, a talk-show host on WINS-AM radio who has been devoting her program to the gulf war.

Betty Glasgow, 60, has no immediate relatives involved in the war and had never participated in a rally of any sort in her life. But her convictions about Desert Storm led her to show up for one of the several pro-military demonstrations last week in downtown Norfolk.

"I feel in my heart that every boy over there is my son or my grandson," she said. "They deserve all the support in the world."

The fate of the missing Oceana fliers has left many saddened, but their military colleagues and neighbors said that is the price of war.

"It goes with the job. What can I tell you?" said Dave Farrugia, command master chief of Attack Squadron 176 at Oceana, which may soon join its sister squadrons in Saudi Arabia. "I've been doing this for 23 years and I've seen guys die because of accidents or combat . . . . It's what we do for a living."

That's not to say there is no anxiety. Nearly everyone either knows or is related to someone sent to the Middle East, and no one is more glued to the television than residents of Hampton Roads.

Local newspapers and radio stations have begun gulf hot lines that can be called around the clock. Calls to the local Navy Family Services Center have jumped from 250 a day before the war to up to 1,600 a day.

Diane Bledsoe has been through this before. Her husband is a career Navy officer who served in Vietnam. But having her 23-year-old son, Army Sgt. Alan Bledsoe, in a combat zone is something quite different.

"It's difficult to think of my son as an adult in command of other men going to war," she said. "I think of the boy who was afraid of the dark."