Nationwide vigils call for end of Iraq war
CRAWFORD, Texas - Hundreds of candlelight vigils calling for an end to the war in Iraq lit up the night Wednesday, part of a national effort spurred by one mother's anti-war demonstration near President Bush's ranch, the Associated Press reported.
The vigils were urged by Cindy Sheehan, who has become the icon of the anti-war movement since she started a protest Aug. 6 in memory of her son Casey, who died in Iraq last year.
Sheehan says she will remain outside the president's ranch until he meets with her and other grieving families, or until his monthlong vacation there ends.
Bush has said he sympathizes with Sheehan but has made no indication he will meet with her. Two top Bush administration officials talked to Sheehan the day she started her camp, and she and other families had met with Bush shortly after her son's death.
More than 1,600 vigils were planned Wednesday from coast to coast by liberal advocacy groups MoveOn.org Political Action, TrueMajority and Democracy for America. A large vigil was also planned in Paris.
As the sun set in Crawford, about 200 protesters lit candles and gathered around a wooden, flag-draped coffin at Sheehan's growing camp, about a mile from the Bush ranch.
"For the more than 1,800 who have come home this way in flag-draped coffins, each one ... was a son or a daughter, not cannon fodder to be used so recklessly," Sheehan told the crowd, which then sang "Amazing Grace."
Before the vigil, Gary Qualls, of Temple drove to Sheehan's camp site and removed a wooden cross bearing his son's name. He said he supports the war and disagrees with Sheehan.
"I don't believe in some of the things happening here," Qualls said. "I find it disrespectful."
Near Philadelphia's Independence Hall, a few hundred people strained to hear the parent of another soldier killed in Iraq. "This war must stop," said Al Zappala, 65, whose 30-year-old son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, died in an explosion in Baghdad in April 2004.
Karen Braz, 50, held a pink votive cup and a sign reading "Moms for Peace" as she stood shoulder-to-shoulder with about 150 other people outside the New Hampshire statehouse in Concord.
"My son is 26. It could've been him," she said
Some critics say Sheehan is exploiting her son's death to promote a left-wing agenda supported by her and groups with which she associates.
Before the Crawford vigil began, Gary Qualls, of Temple, walked to the protesters' memorial to fallen U.S. soldiers and removed a wooden cross bearing his son's name. Qualls said he supports the war effort even though his 20-year-old son Louis was killed in Fallujah last fall serving with the Marine Reserves.
"I don't believe in some of the things happening here," he said. "I find it disrespectful."
Those backing Sheehan, though, voiced their support across the country.
In Minnesota, about 1,000 war protesters stood on a bridge linking Minneapolis and St. Paul. "This war has been disgraceful, with trumped-up reasons," Sue Ann Martinson said. "There were no weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqis didn't have anything to do with 9-11."
Nearly 200 people gathered on the courthouse steps in Hackensack, N.J., with many saying they were angry about the war but were supporting U.S. troops.
"I'm a 46-year-old woman who, in my lifetime, has never seen the country so split," said Lil Corcoran. "My heart is broken."
In Charleston, W.Va., a banner bearing the name, age, rank, hometown and date of death of all Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan was unrolled ¡ª stretching the length of a city block.
Kenny Jones brought his 6-year-old daughter, Scouten, to a vigil in Portland, Ore.
"I was raised to believe that war is no solution," Jones said. "Her mother and I are raising her that way, too. This war is illogical."
Meanwhile, a group called FreeRepublic.com held a pro-Bush rally in the same Washington, D.C., park where 300 people had gathered for a candlelight vigil. At one point, members of the two sides had a heated exchange over who was more patriotic.
"If they don't want to support it, they don't have to support it," said Iraq war veteran Kevin Pannell, who had both legs amputated after a grenade attack last year in Baghdad. "That's the reason I lost my legs."