The crowd that gathered in Forsyth Park on Monday, Sept. 12, lifted their voices for the familiar message of brotherhood and unity. Some wore buttons, some carried signs. Some were happy to have the Bring Them Home Now Tour make a stop in Savannah. And some wished they would all go home.
Many people may not be familiar with the group, but most have heard of the woman who mobilized their effort. Cindy Sheehan, a California woman whose son, Spc. Casey Sheehan, 24, was killed during his service in Iraq, began a vigil at the beginning of August near President Bushs Crawford, Texas, home.
Sheehan requested a meeting with the president to answer questions concerning the war which took her sons life. That meeting never took place, so now Sheehan and her followers are taking her questions to Washington, with stops like this one along the way.
The Tour has been crossing the country from Camp Casey (the name given to the Crawford encampment) in three separate caravans since first of the month in an effort to spread their message before converging in our nations capital for a national anti-war rally on Sept. 24.
For 26 days, we sat in the ditches asking the president to come out and explain why this war in Iraq is such a noble war, said Ann Wright of Honolulu, Hawaii, addressing the crowd. Wright was a career foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department before resigning her position in 2003 in opposition to the war.
We urge everyone to look at what war is really about," she implored. "The destruction of lives and the destruction of property.
Dante Zappala and his family know firsthand just how destructive war can be -- not only for those lost, but to the lives of those left behind. While he has been touring the south, his mother and father have been speaking out on the north and central bus tours.
Zappalas older brother, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, 30, was a National Guardsman from Pennsylvania. He was a peaceful man, Zappala said; not a fighter but a protector. He was also a husband and a father.
Baker served in the Guard for seven years. He should have been out in six, Zappala says, but his duty was extended an extra year. Proud to serve his country -- he even became a recruiter -- Baker thought that the National Guard provided a valuable service in protecting the homeland, under the banner of Serve Your Country Stay at Home.
In the last e-mail he sent to us, he asked us for food and water, says Zappala. He said they werent getting supplies and he was down to one MRE and three bottles of water. This is where his life had gotten him hungry, thirsty and looking for weapons of mass destruction.
Then Zappala described the events leading up to his brothers death.
On April 26, 2004, his brother and other soldiers went to inspect a building looking for weapons. He had his back to that building and was perched on his Humvee -- in the words of Zappala, protecting his soldiers like he had protected me my whole life.
The building exploded behind him, and Baker was struck and killed. He had only been in Iraq for six weeks.
Around the same time my brother was at that building looking for those weapons, Bush was announcing to our country that there were no weapons of mass destruction, jokingly looking under his lectern and under the Oval Office rug. I guess he thought that was funny, Zappala said, referring to Bushs now-infamous schtick at a national press dinner while the war raged.
He doesnt think his brother would have found much humor in the presidents standup comedy performance.
Linda and Phil Waste of Hinesville havent suffered the loss of a loved one to war, but unfortunately, their chances are higher than that of many families. The Wastes have three sons and two grandchildren who are all veterans of this war.
One of their sons is currently on his second deployment. Another will be leaving soon on his, with one of their granddaughters right behind him.
Together, theyve served 58 months to date, says Linda. With current and scheduled deployments, we are looking at 29 more months of consecutive service for our family.
Linda says shes had enough.
Our family has given enough. We have all given enough, Linda said emphatically to the crowd. It is We the People who are making the sacrifice. It is our children, not those of the House or the Senate, or even the Bush Administration. It is We the People. Thats why we need to bring them home now, and support them when they get here.
For Phil Waste, the claim that our military presence in Iraq is necessary to enforce democracy is a fallacy.
For democracy to take effect anywhere, you have to have the right of self-determination -- their determination, not ours. We cant just go in and hold a gun to their heads and force them to embrace it, he says.
These hot-shot, macho guys in Washington showed up from Texas and decided to show everyone else how to run the world. And look at what theyve done so far, says Waste. Thats why were all going to Washington on the 24th. Its time for the parents of our nations military to give Bush a spanking.
Not everyone at the evenings demonstration shared Wastes point of view. A small but determined group of war supporters ringed the periphery of the crowd for the duration of the nights activities. They didnt say much then, but a few spoke up afterwards.
Brian Millar was among them. A former army specialist, Millar said he was there to support the troops and the president.
You know, even I dont agree with everything, with the whole situation. But its my duty to support our president. I believe he is doing the best that he can with what he has to work with, Millar said.
I dont want to see any more of our soldiers get killed either. We have wives here whose husbands are gone. Its pain," he said somberly. Its pain that we all have to endure, but I think to support our president is the best way to get things done.
Nicole Fraley doesnt believe that.
The young woman sat on a bench most of the evening. She would have stood amongst the crowd to really show her support, but she was just too tired.
That was okay though -- because anyone who passed by could see why she was there. The sign she held said it all: I want my son to meet his father.
The father of the baby boy Fraley has been carrying for the past eight months is currently on his second deployment in Iraq. He hasnt seen his wife her entire pregnancy, and he wont see her, or his son, for at least another four months -- and perhaps not until June 2006.
Disagreeing with this war does not mean that I do not support our troops, Fraley said. People may say disagreeing is not patriotic, but patriotism is not blindly supporting any decision made by the government. Patriotism is love and support for my country -- and that love is why I think this war is a mistake.
Fraley compared the U.S. to another legendary empire which famously overreached.
Rome fell because they spread themselves too thin -- they tried to conquer everything, Fraley warned.
We are on our way, and fighting this war that will never end is speeding us along. Mahatma Gandhi once said An eye for an eye would make the world blind. I think that says it all.
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