Friday, August 26, 2005

Gold Star Mother Speaks from Camp Casey

My last day in Crawford, for this visit, began at 6:30 a.m. with a radio interview on the Bill Press Show and later at 7:10 for Air America, and 8:10 for KSOW in Oregon.

I had met up with some great folks from Colorado, Tony & Kimberly who agreed to drive me from the hotel. We headed off to Camp Casey II, and we had to drive by Camp Casey I. The Pro Bush/ Pro War people have grown their site, I believe, in preparation for the large crowds of both sides expected to arrive for the weekend. The first evidence of this expansion was the increased number of canopies/tents and a portapotty. Previous to this time, we had let anyone use our facilities (so don’t let anyone say that we were anything but downright friendly) Until Wednesday, I hadn’t ever seen more than a handful of people, and at sometimes only 1 person holding vigil at their site. It seems like the more vociferous, rowdy people are already in attendance across the street from our Camp I. They have also added a lot of signage. Beginning exactly where the white crosses start across the street, they have placed Pro Bush signs, the campaign kind, very slick, very business like and very much a contrast to the crosses, which just seem to fit standing proudly, representing the sad human cost of this war. I will miss being in Crawford this weekend. If they think we are looking to engage the Pro Bus/ Pro War crowd, they won’t find that from anyone who I met.

I do want to remember some of the people who traveled to Crawford. As people sadly headed home, there were plenty who came to fill their places. I would say about 50 or more new people arrived every day. I would ask people where they were from and why they came. One petite woman, who I recall was from Texas said she *had* to be there, although she had no one in her family in the military. She pulled up her shirt to show me the rubber gloves that were tucked into her jeans pocket. She told me she brought her rubber gloves in case she was assigned to scrub toilets; she just * had* to come and she would do anything to help the camp run smoothly. A family traveled from Ithaca, NY. They had 3 children including a 6 week old baby, but they *had* to come, too. One person was very sad to leave. He got all the way to the airport in Dallas- 2+ hours away, was standing in line to turn in his rental car heading back to Los Angeles. He was overcome with sadness at the thought of not being in Crawford and got into his car and headed back. It really is hard to explain the pull to Crawford, but it is there.

A press conference was scheduled at 10:30. The Blue Star Moms/ Wives would speak to the press followed by the Gold Star Moms/ Wife. Basically, the message was, I am so and so from this place, I believe as Cindy does and want to know what the noble cause is, etc…. The Gold Stars were allowed more time to speak, and this was the first official time that Cindy spoke to the press since she had returned to TX. Marq Anderson from AFSC in Philadelphia flew in on Wednesday to bring Casey’s actual boots and 50 other pair of boots to represent the loved ones of members of Gold Star Families for Peace. Marq is a good friend from when the exhibit Eyes Wide Open was in SF and Sacramento. I also flew out to Philadelphia for 4th of July to participate in the exhibit there as well. Marq presented Casey’s, Ken’s and John’s boots to Cindy, me, and Melanie & Susan House. We walked over to the crosses with our son’s names and placed the boots beside them. It was very emotional. The press took photos and video. Many of my new friends were very nearby for support. I gotta tell you; these peace people know how to give real, “I mean it” kind of hugs! As emotional as it is to be in Crawford, there is always a soft place to fall. I will be eternally grateful for that.

As we left Crawford, the home of the Crawford High School Pirates, I knew I would return shortly. It will be hard to leave next Wednesday for the final time.

Karen Meredith- Gold Star Mom
Proud Mom of Lt Ken Ballard- KIA 5.30.04
Mountain View, CA

National Guard Memorial In Buffalo, NY

In the meantime, the National Guard Memorial consisting of 255 pairs of boots was displayed in Buffalo, NY. Massive TV and radio coverage as folks on their lunch hour in downtown Buffalo came by to read the tags, mourn and cry. Even a fairly conservative talk show host said that people have the right to see the human cost of the war.

One woman on vacation with her family said that as somber as the memorial was, it was a profound way for the family to be together and talk about the war.

For print coverage

For TV coverage

Casey Sheehan's Boots to Crawford

Marq Anderson yesterday delivered Casey Sheehan's boots to Cindy in Crawford, TX. Cindy had given Eyes Wide Open the boots in Philadelphia on July 4th. He returned them to her and she posed with them by the cross that bears his name.

Marq appeared on CNN live yesterday morning.

The scene at Crawfors is one of amazing cooperation and generosity. A whole truckload of mail, checks, t-shirts and even a ham arrives almost every day. The cooking, clean-up and entertainment is a group effort.

Woodstock 2005!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Grounds Crew at the University of Michigan

The Ann Arbor Friends Meeting led the way to set up the full Memorial on the "Diag" of the University of Michigan campus. Quite a bit of back and forth negotiation occurred during June and July as to the requirements for the Memorial.

First, university officials only agreed to the cement and brick area in front of the library. The grounds crew did not want the boots on the grass. When they were told that many of the boots would not be put out, they reconsidered and allowed us to place the boots in the grass.

But because the grounds crew insisted that the grass needed to be watered each night, the boots had to be put away and set up again each morning. The Friends agreed, knowing that it would require many extra volunteers. The other piece of added work included hauling all of the materials about 100 yards from the truck to the actual location.

After the first day, as people in the city and at the university saw the display, a surprise happened on the set-up on Friday. All nine members of the grounds crew came out early to help set up the Memorial. They told one of our organizers that usually they hate the time the Art Fair is in Ann Arbor, but this year they felt that they were participating in something extremely meaningful.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Searching for "Buddies"

Iowa City -- Two boys barely teenagers, and one young man -- near the end of his teens or the beginning of his twenties—walked slowly through the rows of boots. The older one never looked up. I made eye contact with the younger ones in an offer of help. The scowl made clear they did not want any assistance. They eventually stopped before a pair of boots – not from Iowa. It was clear to me the young man who would not look up was looking for a “buddy.” After pausing for some length of time the three sat down on one of the benches.

A volunteer asked me if I thought he should talk with them. I thought it was perfect – who better to connect with a working class kid returned from war than a labor historian.
Yeah he had lost some buddies. He wants desperately to believe it was for a good cause. Their mom joined the group – after signing the petition calling on the governors to “bring the guard home.”

Grandparents Pay Their Respects

Iowa City - An elderly man and woman were looking through the boots, and I showed them where the Iowa boots were placed. They found what they were looking for -- their grandson’s name. They stood quietly then brought a flower to place alongside one already in there.
They took pictures from many angles. They made eye contact with me, inviting me over.

“These boots aren’t the real boots are they? These would never fit on his big feet.” The grin suggested Seth’s feet may have been a bit of a family joke. It was OK with them that they weren’t the real boots but were only representing their grandson. They asked me if I had anyone represented here and seemed relieved when I said I did not. When I said I have a grandson currently in the Air Guard and currently in Iraq – they embraced me.

They left – only to return later with computer print outs of all the Iowa men and women killed in Iraq. Each print out had a picture and story—they thought I might want to place it with the respective boots. They thanked me and left.