JEFFERSON BARRACKS ­ As soon as Clark Smith wheeled himself on his gurney to the veteran appreciation barbecue in the hospital courtyard, he knew these volunteers were different.

Dozens of groups and hundreds of volunteers throughout the year host events to honor veterans at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center buildings at Jefferson Barracks. But this was the first time Smith, a Vietnam vet paralyzed from the chest down, had seen girls wearing hijab serving grilled hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken.

“Usually, I run around without a shirt on, but when I saw this group, I decided to wear one,” Smith said. “Show a little respect.”

That sentiment went both ways. The 20 or so volunteers with the newly formed American Muslim Coalition decided to make their first official group event a salute to the veterans.

“The veterans and soldiers, I feel for them. They are doing their job,” said Ilijas Gusmirovic, 23, a second-year medical student from St. Louis. While he opposes the war in Iraq, he blames the politicians ­ not the soldiers. He said he came to the barbecue to thank those who have served their country.

A recent survey of Muslim Americans by the Pew Research Center found the
majority to be similar to other Americans ­ largely assimilated, middle class and moderate in their views, but more likely to have a negative view of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than the rest of Americans.

Dr. Zia Moiz Ahmad, one of the organizers of Sunday’s event at the VA hospital, said Muslims can oppose the war and still support the soldiers who carry out the orders.


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