MOUNT AIRY — The pastor has seen first-hand the casualties of war.
The former U.S. Army captain and military chaplain served for two weeks at Arlington National Cemetery during the Vietnam War.
"I buried a casualty every half-hour on the hour," the Rev. Robert Herzog recalled. "I presented the flag to the next of kin. Usually,that was the wife or mother. That's a sobering reality."
His church, St. James Episcopal on Main Street, was quiet early Monday evening.
Herzog had opened the church at 4 p.m. -- midnight in the Middle East -- for a peace vigil that was to last until midnight Monday.
Midnight last night was the deadline the United Nations gave SaddamHussein to withdraw Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
Congress voted Saturday to give President George Bush the power to take military action if necessary to force Iraqi troops to withdraw.
At 5 p.m. Monday, three women sat quietly, wrapped in their own thoughts, in the tiny brick church with blue and green stained-glass windows.
As the evening passed and people returned from their jobs, the church began to fill with women, men and families who came to pray that war would be averted in the Middle East.
"I would guestimate that every congregation has someone over there or on their way there, or knows someone who knows someone who has somebody over there," Herzog said.
"You can't put a quarter-million people overseas and not have it affect thewhole country," he said.
Through the evening, Herzog, his congregation and those who walked into the open church prayed -- Psalm 100, Psalm 140, the Gospels of St. Paul.
If God is for us, who can be against us?
It's called intercessory prayer, Herzog said.
"You argue with God. We ask God to help us out of the situation. We pray against reality," Herzog explained.
Some came to the church because they've lived through other wars.
Ruth Webb of Mount Airy had family members in World War II and knows the devastation war brings.
The elderly woman came to the church early in the evening and said shewould return later to pray again.
"I think our prayers will be our only salvation for this situation," she said.
Katie Fetzer of Mount Airy came to the church "just to pray for peace."
The thought of war is particularly chilling: Her son is training to be a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. Conflict could send the 26-year-old to the MiddleEast.
"I also have a friend whose son is over there," she said.
A notice came home from Mount Airy Elementary School Monday with Jackie Cage's youngest son, Brad, a 9-year-old third-grader.
MichaelWinand, the school's building supervisor for a year, left for Saudi Arabia over the weekend, the Mount Airy mother said.
That's more than 850 students and 63 faculty and staff who know someone in Saudi Arabia now, said Althea Miller, Mount Airy Elementary's principal.
Winand is 28, married, and the father of a 2-year-old son, Miller said.
The yellow ribbons put up around the school when Winand received his orders last month will stay until he comes home, she added.
Cage's daughter, Molly, a freshman at South Carroll High, also knows someone who has a relative who might go.
So the four of them, including Tracey, 11, came to pray.
"We just feel very strongly that this is the only thing we as individuals can do and make a difference," Cage said.
"There's nothing you can do except pray for some common sense," 14-year-old Molly added.
They came to pray not just in Mount Airy, but all over the county, in churches conducting peace vigils.
The Rev. Mark Lancaster at Emory United Methodist Church north of Finksburg called on all county churches to open their doors to the public until the crisis in the Middle East is resolved.
"I think it's imperative to provide an opportunity for people to pray for peace," he said.
"I've just tried to make phone calls to area pastors to say that this is a difficult time for the world and I think the church has a real place for us at this time," Lancaster said.
"There are a lot of people who don't attend church and they don't have a church home, but they need a quiet place to go and pray. And we need to open our doors to them, too."
But more important than just praying for peace is simply the need "to be in touch with each other more," said Herzog.
Among the county churches that have extended hours during the crisis in the Persian Gulf are:
* Emory United Methodist Church in Upperco -- 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through today.
* Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church in Eldersburg 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through today.
* Saint Paul's United Methodist Church in New Windsor-- 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through tomorrow.
* Saint Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster -- 5 to 7 p.m. through today.
* Saint Mark's Lutheran Church in Hampstead -- 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through today.