VALLEY LEE -- Representative Roy P. Dyson, facing his toughest battle since he was elected to Congress a decade ago, came home yesterday to vote in the sprawling tidewater of St. Mary's County where the Dyson family has lived for three centuries.
What he found when he arrived at the volunteer firehouse here were friends and neighbors who were warmly supportive of their native son, though quietly troubled by some old wounds vTC reopened by the question of his draft status during the Vietnam War.
Francis J. Capella, a 70-year-old retired seaman, greeted people in the parking lot of the sprawling brick firehouse -- which resembles a small elementary school set amid lush fields and shimmering forests -- asking them to support Mr. Dyson and reminding them to vote also in a hotly contested sheriff's race.
A cheerful Mr. Capella, who lives down the road at the maritime school run by the Seafarer's International Union in Piney Point, explained: "We put money into Roy Dyson's campaign because he's a supporter of our union in Congress."
Mr. Capella said he was unfazed by the suicide of Mr. Dyson's chief aide two years ago and by questions about campaign contributions from defense contractors. He said Mr. Dyson had been good to watermen and had been a friend of the Chesapeake Bay, and he predicted that the incumbent for the 1st District would win the primary easily.
"He's got it locked," he said. "He knows the people."
Asked about the recent disclosure that Mr. Dyson, now 41, was a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, Mr. Capella's smile faded. He didn't think that was an important issue, he said.
Two of his sons went to Vietnam. The older one, he said, volunteered and came back without a scratch. The younger son, now a 43-year-old postal worker, was drafted, seriously wounded and receives 40 percent disability payments from the Veterans Administration. How was he hurt? Mr. Capella looked away and shook his head. "It was a long time ago," he said.
"God knows a lot of neighbors' sons went away, too. ... They didn't even get recognized when they first came home," he said. "Even the veterans' posts didn't welcome them, at first. Now they're heroes."
Looking back, he said, maybe he should have advised his sons to stay home.
Harry Raley, who lives near the Dyson family compound in Great Mills, worked as an election official yesterday and greeted most of the voters by name. When a diminutive, elderly gentleman in a cap and dusty jeans wrestled with the heavy door to the firefighters' hall, Mr. Raley said as encouragement, "Put a little beef in it. Didn't you eat your Wheaties today?"
Mr. Raley and another man talked about the Dyson family. They both knew the congressman's father, Leroy. The other man recalled with a smile how an uncle of the congressman used to embellish the details of his career as a musician in Washington.
Mr. Raley said Mr. Dyson "has been a good congressman." Do people talk about his draft status? he was asked. Mr. Raley paused and then said it was in the newspapers. Has the question of his draft status hurt him? "That was 30 years ago, wasn't it?" he said. His friend reminded him that, no, it was 20 years ago.
Both men glanced at their feet. They said they accepted Roy Dyson's explanation of why he sought conscientious objector status -- because he opposed the way the Vietnam War was waged. The United States wasn't fighting to win that war, was it? the two men asked. How many other thousands did what the congressman did? How many burned draft cards or ran away to Canada?
The other man is a veteran of another war. "If I'd known then what I know now, I might have run off, too," he said. His eyes remain on the floor briefly. Then he looked up and focused at some nearby, invisible object.
Roy Dyson arrived surrounded by family members just past 10 a.m., after spending part of the morning waving signs at motorists on Route 235, the highway that forms the spine of St. Mary's County.
Mr. Dyson walked up to the door of the firehouse flanked by his mother, Marie, his sister Virginia, a younger brother, Stephen, and several nephews. He wore a blue, button-down shirt, green tie, suit pants and soiled leather hiking shoes with cracked neoprene soles.
The congressman paused to hug his nephews and then moved inside, shaking hands and chatting with everyone he met. He bantered awkwardly with photographers, chiding them when they said they had not had time to vote.
"How is the turnout?" he asked hopefully, perhaps counting on a big margin from his home base to help offset any last-minute momentum his challengers might have picked up. Mr. Raley said it appeared to be well above the 35 percent expected statewide.
The congressman's sister, Virginia Dyson Guzman, emerged from the voting booth with her 4-year-old son, Michael. The child ran up, and Mr. Dyson swept him up in his arms. "Did you vote for me?" Mr. Dyson asked the child in a stage whisper. The nephew nodded. "We made you win," Mrs. Guzman said.
Mr. Dyson did not seem eager to talk to reporters. Asked for a prediction, he said, "It'll be a landslide."