Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson speak at demonstrations and write letters to newspapers and politicians against the war in Iraq. As parents of a Marine deployed in the Middle East, they know many other military relatives see their activism as unsupportive, even unpatriotic.
To the contrary, the Massachusetts couple said, they believe that the relatives of troops have an obligation to voice their antiwar feelings. And they have created a forum for them to do just that, founding the antiwar group Military Families Speak Out.
More than 200 of the organization's members across the nation reject the notion that supporting their young men and women means they must support the war in Iraq.
"It's a unique voice in the military," said Lessin, whose son is on the amphibious assault ship Nassau. "Together we can raise that voice and have it be heard."
People who have joined the group give a variety of reasons for opposing the war. They contend that President Bush merely wants Iraq's oil, that innocent Iraqis are being killed. But the most unifying reason is also deeply personal: They don't want to see their relatives at risk in a war that they see as immoral.
"I think my brother is being used as a weapon of mass destruction," said Erin Rogers, whose 28-year-old brother, Ron, is deployed in Qatar. When she goes to protests, the Texan holds up a photograph of Ron next to the words: "My brother. U.S. Air Force. Don't let him die. Don't make him kill."
Opposition to the war by relatives of service members has divided some families and provoked controversy in military communities. Protesters have been ostracized by co-workers and spat on by passing drivers near some bases. One wife against the war told of being shunned by a base support group and another said she was shamed into taking down antiwar signs.
Carole DeMar's son is in Iraq with his Army unit, the 130th Engineer Brigade. But DeMar said she is "totally opposed to this war and all it stands for," believing that her son is being used as a pawn for control of oil.
DeMar, who has joined many protests, has provoked spirited debate within her own family, which lives in Portland, Ore.
The son on the battle lines believes he is engaged in a "valiant cause for mankind," she said.
Another son, at home, says antiwar demonstrations send the wrong message to the troops. For the peace of her family, DeMar said, she's trying not to push her activism on either son.
The Passinos of Fort Wayne, Ind., also are feeling the stress, not only of having a son at war, but of disagreeing sharply on the righteousness of the conflict.
Mary Passino opposes the war. Her husband, Andy, is in favor of it and doesn't approve of her protesting.
The couple have quarreled several times, she said. Mary, whose son is in the 101st Airborne Division, said President Bush's policies have "put many families in this position where there are disagreements and arguments."
Passino, 39, said she and her husband had to agree recently to stop discussing the war. "We've kind of come to a truce," she said. "We can't have a relationship if we are always arguing about this."
Some relatives are lifelong peace activists. Others, like 26-year-old Monica Izquierdo, have never protested before.
She tried to keep her antiwar opinions to herself. Her fiance is a Marine on the front lines in Iraq and she didn't want him to worry about what she was doing back home.
But when the bombing started, she couldn't stay quiet. She marched in her first war protest last month, [walking through downtown San Diego holding a sign: "Bring Our Troops Back Now."
Like many others who oppose the war and have relatives in the armed forces, Izquierdo is torn by her beliefs. She knows that her fiance is proudly fighting a war that she thinks is unjustified.
"I'm supporting the troops, but in a different way," she said. "I am supporting them by trying to bring them home alive."
She and Eduardo, 24, became engaged in November and he left for Kuwait two months later. She didn't want Eduardo's last name published, fearing that it might get him in trouble with his superior officers.
The couple debated often in the months leading up to his deployment, she said. Eduardo told her he loved his country and was going to the Middle East to fight for America. She argued that the war was only for oil, not liberty.
"He thinks that he is fighting for all of us, to protect us and keep the freedom of the USA," she said, "but I think that this war is not for our freedom."
Wendy Withers also disagrees with her husband about the war in Iraq.
She said Josh -- a 22-year-old Marine whom she last heard from when he was in Kuwait -- doesn't want her to protest the war. So, to express her opposition, she speaks out in silence -- with a tattoo on her back that depicts a fairy with peace signs on its wings.
Josh Withers' sister, Kimberly Gibbs, wants it made clear that she and the others don't resent the troops, just the mission they've been ordered to carry out.
"We know that the troops are getting word of the protests," said Gibbs, who lives in Colorado. "Our troops fear that they will come home and face what the Vietnam troops faced. That's not at all what's going on."
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times