The Mood and The Moment

12 scenes from the day the war hit home.

March 21, 2003|BY SUN STAFF

Peter LaCount considered taking the day off from work after the war began in Iraq. He thought he might need to settle himself in a reality he hadn't had the time to accept.

But chasing a 2-year-old around doesn't leave LaCount much opportunity for quiet reflection. And, he thought too, he'd save the time off for that unknown future date when his wife, Susan, a major in the Army Reserves, comes home from the Middle East.

So LaCount finished unloading the dishwasher in his Catonsville kitchen with the help of daughter Grace, still clad in her fuzzy pink-footed sleepers, and prepared yesterday morning to leave for the office.

Susan LaCount, a speech therapist in the Howard County schools, is managing a battalion - more than 300 soldiers - in charge of medical logistics. She was shipped out Feb. 26 and her husband's head is still spinning.

He was a little groggy from a short night's sleep, and Grace was running early morning circles around him. She usually has him worn out and in bed by 9:30 p.m., but he was up late watching the war begin and answering a phone call.

"It was Susan. I couldn't believe it. She called right after the president finished." It was only the third call he's had from her since she left Fort Dix, N.J.

"We talked about Grace. I told her she was counting. I said I was thinking of buying a jungle gym set. She asked me to talk to her about Mama a lot. I could hear tears in her voice."

Even on the first full day of the war, the calls for buttons were still coming in. As she has for months, Susan Macfarlane packed up the order - 20 red and blue buttons that say "Women Opposing War" - and set it on the porch of her Roland Park home. One local woman wanted 25 buttons, and another woman, from Massachusetts, wanted 100.

"I asked her if she thought people would still want buttons, and she said `Oh, I think now more than ever,'" Macfarlane said.

But Macfarlane, who has ordered more than 30,000 WOW buttons since last summer, says she's not certain that she'll continue wearing her own button in public while the war unfolds.

"I think I'll be more sensitive about it," she said. "I wouldn't want soldiers to think they're unsupported in what they're having to do."

Though saddened by the start of war, Macfarlane said she did not feel defeated. She says she was heartened by the number of people across the nation and world who've spoken up for peace in recent months and continue to do so.

Buttons weren't the only thing in the bag awaiting pickup on Macfarlane's porch yesterday. There were also copies of a letter that she'd written advising button wearers to pray for peace and avoid anger.

"We cannot ask George Bush to be patient, restrained and compassionate if we are not expressing these same qualities ourselves," she wrote.

They huddle like a football team in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; red, blue and yellow slickers flapping in the rain. History teacher Mike Ragan, 44, has 14 eighth-grade boys from Van Wert (Ohio) Middle School in tow. They're in Washington for a class trip and just found the name of a fellow student's uncle etched on the long, black wall. Earlier the group laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

"Where we come from is a very conservative part of Ohio, very patriotic," says Ragan.

Wednesday night, they attended the musical 1776. On their way out of historic Ford's Theatre, word spread that war had begun. "I'm unbelievably proud," says Ragan. "This should have been taken care of a long time ago." He downplays the notion of this being America's first-ever pre-emptive war: "I would argue this is a continuation of 1991."

Ben Roop's brother is an Army Ranger on his way to Saudi Arabia. Ben likewise plans to enlist after high school. "If I had a chance," he says, "I'd go now."

Instead, he marches off in the rain toward the Lincoln Memorial.

Life goes on, life begins.

There are no signs of war in the nursery of Mercy Medical Center. There is the clipped, vital purple of an umbilical cord. There is the old smell of Johnson's Baby Wash on a newborn. There are teeny, pliant fingernails.

During the birth of this war, Baby Boy Parker was born yesterday at 4:30 a.m. (12:30 p.m. in Baghdad). His temperature is in the healthy range. Heart is strong, says nurse Leslie Kempler. "OK, little boy. You're good," Kempler says. Baby Boy Parker stretches out - looks like he plans to sleep through the war.

One floor up is his mother, Lashawnda Parker. Baby Boy is her fourth child, soon to be referred to as Maurice. Even after four times, the shock and awe of childbirth has not waned for the 25-year-old Parker.

Over in Room 1607, Donielle Griffin watches Rikki Lake's show, today featuring: "Mean Skinny Women." Griffin manages a weak chuckle. Her initials and status are logged on the Board by the nurses' station. Five babies were born along with the war. Griffin suspects she'll have her daughter by dinner. Baby Girl Griffin will be named Dakiyah.

"It's a more dangerous world," Griffin says, between contractions.

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