Peace vigils support Sheehan

August 18, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ


War protesters in Hagerstown, Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Chambersburg, Pa., used hand-penned signs and pointed words to express themselves Wednesday, joining a nationwide vigil sparked by a California mother's grief.

Many anti-war messages referred generally or specifically to Cindy Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son, Casey, died in Iraq during the war. Sheehan has become a national figure for camping out about two miles from President Bush's Texas ranch since Aug. 6 and calling for him to meet with her again.

She met the president last year.

About 1,600 nationwide candlelight vigils like the local three were to be held Wednesday. Liberal advocacy groups organized them.

About 50 people in Hagerstown's Public Square used Sheehan and her highly publicized campaign as a springboard for their rally against the three-year-old war.


Don Kioseff of Hancock stood on a curb waving a sign - "End the Occupation of Iraq" - at eastbound traffic. "Hey, hey, ho!" he called to grab motorists' attention. Or, "Let's get out!"

Most people looked his way as they passed. Several honked or gave a "thumbs up" sign, which made him cheer. A few drivers shook their heads or made a disapproving gesture.

The Rev. Michael Hydes of New Light Metropolitan Community Church in Hagerstown said his Bible study class was scheduled to meet Wednesday.

When he read an e-mail about the vigil, he asked his group if they were interested. They said yes, so Hydes canceled class and joined about 10 of them at the rally.

"I think there's a feeling of discontent between many Americans and their government," said Eileen McNeely, who lives near Boonsboro. "I think the frustration of seeing their children used by a government that is unresponsive is enraging."

Mary Godwin of Boonsboro brought her son, Caleb, 9. Together, they displayed their signs to traffic heading south on Potomac Street.

"I think it's crucial that people speak up about what's going on," she said.

Mixed in with occasional honks of support, Godwin said, was one rebuke. Someone called them "a bunch of hippies" - but in stronger language - and told them to go home, she said.

In June 2004, Bush met with Sheehan and other families of soldiers who died in the war. In a story about the meeting, The Reporter of Vacaville, Calif., Sheehan's hometown, quoted her as saying, "I have a new respect for him because he was sincere and he didn't have to take the time to meet with us .... I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss."

She said Bush gave her family, through the meeting, "the gift of happiness, of being together."

In Shepherdstown, about 65 people participated in a vigil in front of Shepherd University's McMurran Hall.

They stood quietly holding candles and signs calling for change in foreign policy.

One sign said "Presbyterian for Peace." Another read "Moms for Peace."

Vigil participant Vince George said he is frustrated over the country's handling of the war and the repeated statement that the U.S. needs to "stay the course."

"No one knows what the course is. There is no exit strategy," George said.

"I am so against the war," said Harpers Ferry, W.Va., resident Pat Humphreys, who said she feels she was lied to about the conflict.

In Chambersburg, about 40 people holding signs and candles spread out around Memorial Square to show their support of Sheehan and their opposition to the war.

"As a mother, I can't fathom the pain of this woman losing her child to this senseless war," said Beverly Hamilton.

"I think this is a good moment to start a national conversation and for the president to confront someone with whom he does not agree," said Cesi Kellinger, referring to the president not meeting with Sheehan again.

One woman carried a sign that said Bush spent his summer vacation "pretending that grieving mothers don't exist." Some passing motorists honked their horns as they drove by, but there was little verbal reaction to the protest.

Staff writers Don Aines and Dave McMillion and The Associated Press contributed to this story

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