By Amanda Beck
YORBA LINDA – There's no mistaking the carriage of a military man – not a year after his retirement and not when fatigues have given way to a business suit.
So it was with pin-straight posture and an unmistakable love of his country that retired U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks strode the back halls of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace on Thursday and stopped to pat the shoulders of four U.S. Marines.
"Semper Fi," he said, smoothing the arms of their dress uniforms, as any father would do. "You look great. You look like Marines."
Minutes later, Franks galvanized a room of 650 spectators, who gathered to hear his take on politics, Sept. 11 and the wars that launched the attack on terrorism.
As the top officer at U.S. Central Command from 2000 to 2003, Franks served as the chief architect of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
The assignment was the capstone of his 36-year military career, which began with his deployment to Vietnam, where his helicopter was shot down and for which he was awarded three Purple Hearts.
"It was then he promised if he ever ran the Army, he would hunt the enemy down in its sanctuary," said the library's executive director, John H. Taylor. "He is a man who ... has made history."
For his part Thursday, Franks gave a speech studded with Texas aphorisms and the plain talk of a military man. But he did not shy from defending his faith in the Iraq war -- its impetus and its current management.
He characterized the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a "crease in history," a day on which the past of America was separated from its future.
It was on that day, he said, that the United States finally chose to act on what had become a 20-year chain of previously ignored terrorist attacks, from Beirut to Mogadishu.
He also remembers that day -- and its loss of life in the "wink of an eye" -- when he considers the sacrifices U.S. troops must make today, even with paltry world support.
"When it comes to protecting a way of life for my grandchildren and generations to come ... call me a bully," he said. "That's OK with me."
Franks' remarks also were full of good humor and hope for both Iraqis and Afghans, who he said now have an opportunity to control their own destinies.
"I don't know if they'll make it or not, but I know that they have something they haven't had in 2,000 years: They have a chance."
Audience members said they were impressed with him and pleased to hear his anecdotes about President George W. Bush, who Franks said waited months -- not minutes -- before broaching the idea of war in Iraq.
"I never knew he was such a staunch supporter of Bush," said Alvin Mann, 76, of Corona del Mar. "This is the 'no-spin zone,' " said Debbie Foster, 50, of Orange.
Despite his long insistence that he is an independent voter and thinker, Franks admitted publicly that he and his wife are "Bush fans."
"Gosh, I'm glad I said that," he quipped. "Catharsis."