Monday, August 15, 2005

It's a short drive to Crawford

It is only an 80-mile journey from my house to Crawford. Since the "Western White House" was established there in 2001, I've had no interest in visiting. But when Cindy Sheehan and peace activists from around the country decided to stage a demonstration last week, my wife and I began discussing ways we might be able to help out.

We found it very easy and rewarding to help. I called the Crawford Peace House, asked what supplies they needed, stopped at the store and loaded up. Follow me below the fold and read about our fascinating day at Camp Casey.

It was a beautiful day Saturday (13-April-2005), so we decided to pack up the family for a short drive from Williamson County to Crawford. We were heading north on TX 317 as we drove into town. At Crawford's only traffic signal, we turned right. Directly across the railroad tracks was the Peace House. Finding a parking spot was a little tricky, and McClennan County sheriff's deputies were constantly present. They were courteous, but reminded us if we parked in the lot across the street we would be towed.

From the Peace House, we rode in a minivan owned and driven by a volunteer from the Dallas area who had been in Crawford since Thursday. It is a three-mile journey down Prarie Chapel Road to the site where Cindy Sheehan and her supporters are encamped, "Camp Casey" it is named in honor of Casey Sheehan. We arrived at Camp Casey around 6 p.m. A group of about 100 remained alongside County Road 450-A, near the intersection with Prarie Chapel Road.

Though the weather was warm (90°F/32° C), the campers were in good spirits and seemed well-supported. There were a number of clean portable restrooms, stocks of bottled water and food supplies. A good number of people with cameras, notepads and tape recorders were getting interviews.

While speaking with a Democrat from Leander, KTBC reporter James Irby began asking questions about the photograph of a fallen soldier near where we were seated. The woman with whom I was speaking said that Beatriz Saldivar was the soldier's aunt, and pointed her out to me. I walked over and introduced myself and asked if she would like to do a television interview.

Beatriz was willing to speak with Irby on camera, but was a little self-conscious. I snapped this picture so she could see herself and convinced her that she looked ready for prime time. Read further and find out what a beautiful soul she has, too.

It is difficult to put into words the emotions I felt while hearing her story. She held up a large portrait of Army Sergeant Daniel Torres (right), a young man from Fort Worth who died 04-Feb-2005 in Bayji, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device hit his vehicle.

Beatriz next showed me a photograph from Torres' funeral. Mariachis were arrayed behind Torres' frosted silver casket. His girlfriend, Sofia Maldonado, stricken with grief, clutched a folded American flag in one hand and a handkerchief in the other. Looking about to collapse, her arm was extended toward the casket. The depth of sadness captured in the photograph was palpable.

In another photograph, taken a year earlier in Rome shortly before his return to duty, Torres stood next to a column spray-painted with "No war". He wanted his picture taken with the message, because he agreed with its sentiment. However, his loyalty to the other soldiers in his unit compelled him to return. Torres was supposed to return from his second tour in Iraq in January, but a "stop loss" delayed his departure.

I later discovered that Torres had learned one week before his death that he was to become a father. The depth of this tragedy is incomprehensible. Daniela Cristina will never know her father, and Maldonado will raise her as a single mother.
The entire time Beatriz was speaking to me, the KTBC camera was watching. Occasionally, I nodded speechlessly. This is a tragedy that should not have happened.

On her eighth day in Crawford, Cindy Sheehan had overcome torrential rains, the secret service pushing the camp further down the road, the jeers of pro-Bush demonstrators, the flu and a withering attack on her integrity and motives by wingnut commentators. Later that evening, she would write:

"We also met a man whose son was KIA in Iraq in November of 2004. He still loves George Bush and thinks we are doing great things in Iraq. By the end of the day we were drinking beer together and telling each other 'I love you.'"

So much praise has justly been heaped on Cindy, that it will probably not help for me to feebly throw out more; but I must. Simply put, she is the reason my wife asked me to consider this trip, and everything I have learned about her has proven her worthiness. She is shouldering not only the burden of her loss on 04-April-2004, but indeed the entire hopes of today's antiwar movement. I will do anything I can to help her get her message out, because it is so authentic. This war of choice based on lies is killing working families' young and ripping the country apart. It must end now.

At its peak, about 17 counter protesters appeared on Prarie Chapel Road across the triangle from Camp Casey in support of George W. Bush. When I arrived, a single truck with about three supporters remained. They carried signs which read, "Don't Iraqis deserve freedom?" KTBC reporter James Irby, interviewed them in the photo at left.

Though outnumbered by 30- or 40-to-1, I'm certain the reporting will grant the pro-Bush turnout equal footing in terms of quantity of coverage. My own eyes witnessed the truth. In the heart of Bush country, where a fake statue of the Ten Commandments stands tall on the back of trailer parked at the Crawford's main intersection, very few were willing to stand in support of the Iraq War.

Back at the Crawford Peace House, more supporters flowed in from all parts of the country. Here are three volunteers who we met as the sun set. The energy level, which had been at a fever pitch throughout the day, remained high as we left. The Peace House has been home base for the antiwar movement for one week, and should remain so for four more.


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