Image: Family members of soldiers killed in Iraq protesting in Arlington, Va.
Olivier Douliery  /  Abaca
Former soldiers and family members of soldiers killed in Iraq mourn and display black coffins as a symbolic protest at Arlington Cemetery in Arlington Va, on Oct. 2.
updated 10/27/2004 3:14:46 PM ET 2004-10-27T19:14:46

In the year and a half since her son died in Iraq, Arlene Walters has transformed her living room into a shrine.

Paintings of Sgt. Donald Walters in uniform adorn the walls. His Purple Heart, Silver Star and POW medals sit in a glass case. A banner with a single gold star — signifying the loss of a family member in a war — hangs in the window.

After her son's death, Walters became an outspoken critic of what she considered President George W. Bush's poor planning for the war. But it's not enough to sway her vote.

"Don was willing to do this, he thought it had to be done, so I had to support him," said Walters, 67, who voted for Bush in 2000 and plans to do so again. "I have to support it because he gave his life for it."

As casualties continue to mount in Iraq, some who lost family members in the war have switched their political allegiance from President Bush to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. One former Bush supporter from Birmingham, Alabama, has actively campaigned against the president at anti-war rallies since her son's death.

But many more — Republicans and Democrats alike — say the experience simply reinforced their views.

"I can't say how angry we are with the administration and how these kids have been used and abused and sacrificed for nothing," said Annette Pritchard, an Oregon City Democrat who opposed the war before and after the death of her nephew, Pfc. William Ramirez. "This war's being fought by poor kids. That's who's over there."

Families stand behind Bush
Lorraine and Michael Earley have attracted attention in Wilmington, Ohio, with their yard display that includes a photo of their dead son, Army Sgt. Steven D. Conover, and a sign that reads: "Flush the Johns on Nov. 2," referring to Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards.

The Earleys placed a toilet near the sign.

"Bush didn't kill my son," said Lorraine Earley, 44, who voted for Bush in 2000. "My son made a choice. Yeah, my son was killed. He was killed so that we would be safe."

In interviews with The Associated Press, many who lost family members in Iraq said they disapprove of Bush's handling of the war, like more than half of likely voters in a recent AP poll. But several said they would vote for Bush nonetheless.

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Although he is very displeased with the president's performance, Samuel Oaks, 63, of Harborcreek Township in Pennsylvania feels he must vote for Bush again so he can "get the job done" in Iraq.

"I have pretty much lost faith in any of the politicians," said Oaks, who lost his grandson, Army Spc. Donald Samuel Oaks Jr., 20, to friendly fire. "(Bush) never showed us one good reason for our kids to die there."

Some seek Kerry for change
Others want to do what they can to keep more soldiers from dying — and they think that means electing Kerry. For the first time, lifelong Democrat Cheryl Fey of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, is knocking on doors for her party.

"This is the first time I've felt that I needed to," said Fey, whose 22-year-old son, Marine Cpl. Tyler R. Fey, was killed in April. "We still have troops over there that shouldn't be there and something needs to be done."

Gordon Angell said he has voted for Democrats in the past but considered himself an independent before his son, Lance Cpl. Levi Angell, 20, died in combat. Now he's campaigning with the Democrats and speaking out about the war at campaign events.

His son told the family that the troops in Iraq didn't have body armor and other protection they needed.

"My son is not a liar. I would believe him before any politician," said Angell, of Cloquet, Minnesota. He said the Bush administration "is misleading the American public."

Kerry's military service appeals to retired Marine Kenneth Conde of Orlando, Fla., who feels a willingness to die for the country should be "a requirement of the presidency." Conde's son, Marine Sgt. Kenneth Conde Jr., 23, died in July.

"It's kind of hard to vote for Bush right now after the loss of my son," the 43-year-old said. "The decisions that he made cost the lives of a lot of young men and women, and for that I hold him accountable."

Some people in Peggy Buryj's family hold Bush responsible for the death of her son, Army Pfc. Jesse Buryj, 21. But she can't understand why.

"An Iraqi killed my son. That proves to me there are evil people over there who need to be dealt with," said Buryj, 51.

She met Bush in late July when he campaigned in her home town of Canton, Ohio.

"I hugged him and he cried and I cried and he prayed with us. You could tell the compassion. I cried on his shoulder and he cried on mine," she said. "It was an experience I'll never forget."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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