War Worries New Englanders

Region Sees Sprinkle of Protests, Prevailing Mood of Anxiety

New Englanders, famous for their Yankee stoicism, learned on one another for support yesterday as they pieced together sketchy details of the Persian Gulf war.

At the harbor Light Mall in Weymouth, volunteers, many with relatives in the Gulf, have operated a packaging service for boxes sent to soldiers since November. Yesterday was their busiest yet.

Some came to cut, tape and pack Many just needed someone to talk to.

"People say `We're here to help.' But they are frightened and nervous, and some of them just need hugs," said Mary Treacy, a Weymouth volunteer. "People drop by to keep themselves busy. There's nerves and fear, and it helps in a group where people understand."

There was also a sprinkle of protests around the region, but the prevailing mood seemed to be one of anxiety.


"A kid came up out of the blue and said, `Do you think if we go to war that a lot of people will die?' I said, `yes, I think they will.' I didn't know what to say. I had to be truthful," said nancy Smith, a teacher's assistant who works with second- and third-graders at the Baxter School in Portland, Maine.

In North Stonington, Conn., Wheeler High School's 14-member crisis intervention team met at 6:30 a.m. yesterday to discuss helping worried students. Eight of the school's students have immediate family members in the Gulf.

"We are trying to keep things as normal as possible" in the midst of exam week, said Assistant Principal Natalie Pukas. "But we are available to students who feel they need to talk to someone."

Some sought solace in prayer. At St. Timothy's Church in Warwick, R.I., about 200 people, double the usual number, attended morning services.

At Massachusetts' largest military installation, Fort Devens in Ayer, many relatives of soldiers called on the base's family support center.

"A lot of people are looking for support groups, other people they can talk to," said Anne Wilson, a community service officer for the Army.

To help relatives understand what their loved ones might be experiencing, the center had set up a display dubbed "Saudi Central."

"It has artifacts, photos, maps, different demographic information, so people can get a feel for what it's like over there," Wilson said. "Just hearing the words Saudi Arabia doesn't mean anything. This makes it more real for them."

Among anti-war protests yesterday, police arrested 84 people who allegedly blocked access to the John F. Kennedy federal building in Boston.

Meanwhile, about 50 protesters blocked traffic temporarily on the Calvin Coolidge Bridge in Northampton, Mass., but no arrests were made And about a dozen anti-war protesters rallied outside the federal building in Providence, R.I. Some held signs calling for President Bush's impeachment.