They remember the cool receptions and cold stares that Vietnam veterans endured when they came home from war, and they have vowed that their loved ones won't be subjected to the same.

"We have to let our troops know that we're behind them, that we support what they are doing," an emotional Chris Collins said to Montgomery County parents, students and school administrators who gathered at the Paint Branch High School football field yesterday to show support for graduates who are serving in the Persian Gulf War.

"Please display the colors, send letters, always be positive, so our men and women overseas will know that we're behind them," said Collins, a Vietnam veteran whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. Michael A. Collins, is stationed in the gulf.

Across the nation yesterday, supporters of the U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf gathered to express their gratitude to troops fighting in the war against Iraq.

Three dozen supporters of the Bush administration's policies staged a rally yesterday in Lafayette Square, but found themselves outnumbered by about 100 anti-war demonstrators parading in a circle across the street in front of the White House.

Lucille Wetzel, whose son Scott has been in Saudi Arabia since October, traveled to the District from Ohio to participate in the rally supporting the troops.

Cradling a photograph of her son in his Army uniform, Wetzel stared across the street at the anti-war demonstrators. "I feel they are betraying him and the rest of the men and women over there," she said.

In Oklahoma City, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Marian Opala spoke to a group of about 3,000 war supporters, saying such gatherings send a signal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that Americans don't give up.

Many demonstrators toted signs with slogans such as "Hitler-Hussein, One and the Same" or "No Slack for Iraq."

A flag-waving crowd police estimated at 3,000 to 4,000 people rallied in Rochester, N.Y., while anti-war demonstrators staged a protest outside a plant where body bags are manufactured. More than 1,000 people gathered outside the Iowa Statehouse in Des Moines to show support for troops and their families.

The rally in Montgomery County was planned after a group of parents realized that more than 20 recent Paint Branch graduates were assigned to duty in the Persian Gulf.

Jennifer Crispin wiped tears from her eyes as she touched a picture of a friend who was sent to Saudi Arabia last week. "I don't want my best friend to die," the 15-year-old sophomore said as she looked at the photo of Chip Wetsal. "I know he can't see this, but I know it would make him feel good to know that people back home love and support him."

Stuart and Elaine Rothenberg, of Silver Spring, said they attended the rally with their two children to show support for the families of the troops. "I just can't imagine what it must be like for those people who have sons over there," said Elaine Rothenberg, who learned about the rally through a flier sent home from her children's elementary school.

"Today is like a great big hug," said rally organizer Diane Dean, whose 19-year-old son, Lance Cpl. Bob Dean, is stationed with the light infantry battalion that included 11 Marines killed last week. Dean's son, like the 11 dead Marines, operates a light armored vehicle.

"I wanted to do something that would bring the community together and give us a way to show support in a positive manner," Dean said. "We felt like we had to do something, because you see so much anti-war stuff."

Supporters of U.S. Persian Gulf policy have scheduled another rally and march for noon today at the Lincoln Memorial.