RICHMOND, Va. - The war is over. Or so people have told him, yelling out car windows - Don't you read the paper? - as they drive past his sign.
Of course, if the war were over, Larry Syverson wouldn't be out there in the first place. He could spend his lunch hours sitting in an air-conditioned restaurant instead of standing on the sidewalk in front of the federal courthouse in the midday heat. He could stop fearing the crunch of an unfamiliar car on his gravel driveway, followed by the knock of a stranger with news about his sons.
He has four of them altogether. Two are soldiers in Iraq.
The hecklers' remarks don't entirely surprise him. "Major combat operations" in Iraq were declared over on May 1, and the days when people were riveted by the troops' every step are long gone. For months, Syverson has felt as if the country were shifting its focus, more interested in tax cuts and Harry Potter and Laci Peterson, less interested in yellow ribbons and rallies to support the troops.
But for Syverson, every day is still clouded with worry. Every morning's paper brings a renewed sense of dread. The end of "major combat" didn't mean an end to soldiers dying: At least 77 U.S. troops have lost their lives since May 1. Every report of an Iraqi attack is another reminder of the dangers facing his sons - Bryce, 25, and Branden, 31.
In the state office where Larry Syverson works is a little black datebook. He uses it mostly to record work-related tasks - letters written, reports read - in his job as a senior environmental engineer in the waste division at Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality. But on April 2, there is a different sort of entry:
Branden left this morning at 3 a.m.
And, later, on April 28:
Bryce left a little after midnight.
Now Branden is in Tikrit, Bryce is in Baghdad, and their father begins his workday scouring the Internet for news. He reads about intensified Iraqi resistance. He reads about guerrilla-style attacks on American troops. Just the other day he read about an unnamed soldier with the 1st Armored Division - manning the gunner's hatch on a Bradley fighting vehicle - who was shot to death while guarding a museum in Baghdad.
Syverson's son Bryce is a gunner on a Bradley fighting vehicle with the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad. And even though Bryce's last letter mentioned a different assignment, the anxious father wondered.
"Could he be doing that? Could that be him? You just don't know," says Syverson. "There's thousands of families reading that and everyone's thinking, `I hope that's not my son.' It's like Russian roulette - whose son is it?"
Syverson, 54, has vocally opposed the war in Iraq, which sets him apart from many military parents. (Even his wife, Judy, has declined to join his protests, saying politics, like religion, is a personal issue.) But the fear and uncertainty that consumes him is far from unique. Like other parents of soldiers, he goes to work every day - in his case, with two yellow ribbons pinned to his collar - never knowing exactly where his sons are, what they are doing or if they are safe.
Some days, the only thing he can be sure of is what will happen at noon. That's when he leaves his office and goes to the car to get his sign, the one with the two 8-by-10 photographs of Bryce and Branden in their Army uniforms. He walks three blocks to the Federal Building and stands outside it for an hour, displaying the photos to all who pass by.
He has done this for months now. He says he'll do it until the troops come home. These days he does it on most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, from noon to 1 p.m., no matter the weather. In the blazing summer sun he wipes sweat from his brow and resists the tempting shadow of a nearby tree.
As long as his sons are in the desert, he doesn't want to stand in the shade.
Might as well give up!" a man shouts from the window of a construction truck as it rumbles past the courthouse.
It's just moments past noon on a steamy summer Monday, and the cars and trucks and buses are moving down Main Street. Office workers stroll the sidewalks, security badges flapping around their necks, and lines form at the food stands in the financial district near the state Capitol.
By now, Syverson is used to the hecklers. In the last four months, he has taken his share of abuse. He has been called a communist, told he should be ashamed of himself, gotten what seems like a thousand dirty looks. A semi truck once barreled by so close to the curb that Syverson felt sure the gesture was intentional. But perhaps one of the hardest things to take is when people say he's unpatriotic.
It's true that Syverson opposes the war. He has written his position, in its most succinct form, on the sign next to Bryce and Branden's photographs.
"Iraqi Oil," it says, "Isn't Worth My Sons' Blood."
"I think you can be against the war and still be a good American," Syverson says. "We're a proud family, and we support our troops."