They share only grief

Deaths: Among heartsick parents, Cindy Sheehan's war protest evokes an array of emotions.

August 28, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

David Clemons seethes when he sees Cindy Sheehan on television, standing among small white crosses in an anti-war encampment named for her dead son.

To Clemons, her protest is a crushing insult to his own son, who was also killed while fighting in Iraq.

"The lady is not honoring her son's sacrifice, because we don't have a draft, and he went and signed his name on the dotted line," said Clemons, of Winchester, Tenn., whose son, Nathan, 20, was killed by a roadside bomb June 14. "She'd better not be presenting herself as the voice of all the fallen."

Andre Lieurance, a retired naval officer whose son, Victoir, 34, was killed by a bomb last week, said he found Sheehan so stirring that he might join her vigil at Camp Casey.

"I just want some answers about why we're over there," said Lieurance, of Knoxville, Tenn. "I don't even see the purpose anymore. It's frustrating, and I'm angry."

Though Sheehan has so far failed to persuade President Bush to meet with her in Texas, she is being closely watched by a small group of Americans who can relate to her pain, regardless of whether they agree with her. Even Bush was forced to react to Sheehan's campaign when he said last week that she "doesn't represent the view of a lot of the families" of soldiers that he had met and that withdrawing from Iraq, as Sheehan has demanded, would weaken the United States.

The competing messages have raised debate among parents of the war dead, who appear as divided as the rest of the nation in their opinions of Sheehan and her quest. In interviews last week with several dozen parents of troops killed in Iraq, some said she had moved them to speak out, whether for the war or against it, while others said that watching her vivid protest had dashed what little peace they had found since their children died.

Most said they were trying to get on quietly with their lives, expressing their grief more subtly than Sheehan yet battling the same demons they recognize in her.

"I wouldn't have the energy to protest like her," said Patricia Marsh of Omaha, Neb., whose daughter, Tricia Jameson, 34, a medic in the Army National Guard, died July 14 when a bomb exploded near her ambulance. "Grieving wipes you out, it takes your life away. But even if I had the energy and I was against the war, I would think I was dishonoring what my daughter gave her life for."

Even if they empathized with Sheehan, many parents said they thought the troops should remain in Iraq for now and pointed out that her son, like their children, had chosen to serve in the military. Michael Mazzarella, whose son, Anthony, 22, died July 5, said he still admired Anthony's decision to enlist as a way to escape small-town life.

"He lived life for the moment and really didn't think about the consequences of what tomorrow might bring," said Mazzarella, of Blue Springs, Mo. "Looking back, I don't believe that was a bad thing."

Michael Kilpela of Fowlerville, Mich., said he would like to ask Bush when he planned to withdraw the troops. But he stifles the urge out of loyalty to his son, Andrew, 22, who died in June. "For me to have any negative feelings about the war would be a dishonor to my son," Kilpela said.

But other parents said that they felt it was within their rights to speak up and that Sheehan's protest had emboldened them; a few expressed an anger toward the president as intense as hers, often voicing it only at the end of a conversation.

"I got cards from all kinds of politicians," said Bonnie Bolinger of Troy, N.Y., whose son, Eric Wayne Morris, 31, died in a roadside bombing in April. "I even got one from Hillary Clinton, but Mr. Bush doesn't have the time to recognize those men who died for their country."

James Frye of Oconto, Wis., whose daughter, Nicole, was killed in February 2004, said he and his wife planned to e-mail Sheehan to let her know they shared her fury about the military deaths in Iraq, 1,868 confirmed as of Friday.

"We needed someone for everyone to rally around and I think she started it," Frye said.

Lawrence Tremblay of New Windsor, N.Y., said, "The quiet Americans, and there are a lot of us, need to start standing up and tell our government, `Do this thing right.'" His youngest son, Joseph, 23, was killed by a roadside bomb in April.

Tremblay said that he began seeing a therapist after his son's death and that the therapist asked, "Who are you mad at?"

"A lot of people get mad at the military," he said. "A lot of people get mad at God. A lot of people get mad at everybody. I looked at her and said, `I am not really mad at anybody.' Then a minute went by and I said, `You know something, I am mad at somebody: George Bush. Because he lied. That's why I am mad.'"

Dwight Tipton of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., said that Sheehan's form of grieving was not constructive and that she should do something closer to home. He worked to get the names of newly fallen soldiers like his son, John, 32, added to a local war memorial.

Ronald Wood Sr., of Canon City, Colo., found solace releasing a rehabilitated golden eagle in memory of his son and namesake, thinking, he said, of an Indian belief that "when you release an eagle feather into the wind it brings your prayers to God."

Marny Fasnacht of Janesville, Minn., pores over letters in which her son, Michael, 25, killed in June, wrote proudly of the war and his role in it - consoling evidence, she said, that his death served a purpose. "I read that she questioned whether her son died for a noble cause, and I totally disagree with her on that," she said of Sheehan. "Her son died for the most noble cause: human rights."

Tipton, who served in Vietnam, learned stoicism long ago, he said, when he came home from laying land mines and blowing up bridges and averted a nervous breakdown by telling himself, "It's already done and nobody can fix it, so why worry about it?"

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