Iraq protest held outside Del. base

Military families complain about restricted access

March 15, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

DOVER, Del. - Sue Niederer sought her son's permission before taking part in a protest against the war in Iraq.

Her son, Seth Dvorin, was an Army soldier killed last month about 30 miles south of Baghdad. But Niederer can't quite believe that her 24-year-old boy is gone. She still talks to him.

"I asked his permission to do this," said Niederer, a Pennington, N.J., resident, as she stood outside Dover Air Force Base clutching a poster-sized picture of her son in his dress uniform.

"I said, `If you don't want me to do this, flatten my tires.' He wants me to do this."

Niederer was one of about 600 demonstrators who marched yesterday to the gates of the base to protest the war and complain about restricted access to installations, like Dover, where the bodies of those killed in Iraq are returned.

The protest attracted groups opposed to the war: veterans, pacifists and church groups that bused in from Philadelphia, Baltimore and other northeastern cities. But it was the military families - who traveled from around the country - who were the centerpiece of a 3 1/2 -mile march from a local meeting house to the military base.

Forbidden from entering the complex, the marchers crammed themselves on a sliver of lawn at a busy intersection outside the base and listened as some members of Military Families Speak Out read the names of the more than 560 troops who have been killed since the war began last March.

Several family members said it's wrong for the Pentagon to prevent people from witnessing the return of the remains of soldiers killed in Iraq to American soil.

The news media have been barred from covering the arrival of remains at Dover, which has the military's largest mortuary, since 1991. Before the start of the Iraq war last March, the Pentagon expanded the no-coverage rule to its installations worldwide.

Critics contend the Bush administration did this to keep pictures of flag-draped coffins being unloaded from planes from possibly undermining public support for the war. Pentagon officials say the decision was made out of concern for families who lost a relative in the war.

But some families have complained that they have also been denied access and deprived of the chance to witness a solemn and formal military homecoming ceremony.

Al and Pat McLaine of Columbia hope they never have to visit Dover or any other base for that reason. But the McLaines worry. They have had up to six relatives - including their son Joe and his wife, Mary - in Iraq or somewhere in the Persian Gulf at one time.

"We've got family members in it, but we're not for it," Al McLaine said of the war.

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