As the sun dipped behind pastures around the makeshift campsite near President Bush’s ranch, more than 200 people silently clutched candles and gathered around a flag-draped coffin.
The vigil calling for an end to the war in Iraq was among hundreds nationwide Wednesday, part of an effort spurred by Cindy Sheehan’s anti-war protest in memory of her son Casey, who died in Iraq last year.
“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 said. “Each one is a valuable human life that is missed so desperately.”
More than 1,600 vigils were held from coast to coast, drawing tens of thousands of people, according to the organizers, liberal advocacy groups MoveOn.org, TrueMajority and Democracy for America. A vigil was also held at Paris’ Peace Wall, a glass monument near the Eiffel Tower that says “peace” in 32 languages.
Marie Evans said she attended a gathering at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City to make her opposition to the war heard.
“There was no question in my mind that we needed to make a statement in Oklahoma, which is a very conservative state,” she said, holding a sign that read, “Every day President Bush plays in Crawford our young men die.”
Demonstrators in Nashville, Tenn., carried candles, flags and banners of protest, including one that read: “Thank you for your courage Cindy.”
“This is a good example of how one person can make a difference,” said Gigi Gaskins, 44, of Nashville.
No plans to leave yet
Sheehan, of Vacaville, Calif., has said she won’t leave Texas until Bush’s monthlong vacation ends or he meets with her and other grieving families.
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 met with Bush shortly after her son’s death and before she became a vocal opponent of the war.
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 — 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.”
Pro-Bush rally in Washington
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.”