WHEELING, W. VA. -- If Jessica Lynch is the bravest woman in America, the second-bravest may well be Angelica Amaya.
Or, as some will say -- for various reasons, including ones of her own personal safety -- the most foolish.
Certainly the several hundred people gathered Saturday morning at the Veterans Amphitheater in a Valley Rally for America think she is dead wrong and ignorant.
Or, as one angry veteran puts it, standing less than an arm's length away from her, "She's sick -- mentally disturbed."
Yet Angelica Amaya stands her ground, tears rolling down her cheeks and her entire body shaking in the cold wind that pounds in off the Ohio River.
"I'm scared," the 33-year-old office worker admits.
"But I have to do this."
She has come, one person out of 1,000 or more, to the banks of the Ohio to raise her hand against the war in Iraq. The others have come -- many of them veterans wearing their original uniforms -- to raise the flag, sing the national anthem, pray to God for swift victory, listen to politicians wrap themselves in the story of Lynch -- the 19-year-old private from West Virginia who was so dramatically rescued this past week -- and stand, cheering, while a local performer sings God Bless the U.S.A.
They have come carrying flags, wearing patriotic caps and jackets and sweatshirts -- one family in a minivan plastered with praise for President George W. Bush and a bumper sticker that says "If 90% of you are for military strikes, the other 10% should be tried for treason."
Angelica Amaya carries a simple homemade sign that says "I love my country but . . . "
She has pasted a photograph of a young Iraqi woman on the sign and written below: "Are you willing to kill her to get to Saddam? "
The answer, unequivocally, is "Yes -- if that's what's required."
She stands, shaking and often tearful, as politician after politician takes to the podium, the event carried live on far-reaching WWVA radio.
"Only God can forgive Saddam," shouts local politician Jack Yost. "We will arrange that meeting."
U.S. Representative Bob Ney, a Republican from across the river in Ohio, talks about the bravery of Jessica Lynch and the sacrifices of the soldiers and even about those who oppose this war.
"Those who think otherwise," he says to cheers, "better get it firm in their minds -- they might not support the war, but they'd better support the troops."
"I do, I do," says a tearful Amaya to the small group beginning to gather around her, "but this isn't about the troops. Innocent people are dying! "
"Don't," thunders another politician into the microphone, "listen to the shrill voices of the few who hate America."
But some of them do listen to a woman who is neither shrill nor hateful of her country. They listen to her talk about United Nations inspections and dubious reporting, and while a few debate reasonably with her, a few others cannot hold their outrage.
"Go down to Palestine and talk to the Lynches! " an angry man says, referring to the local family that is off to Germany to be with their injured daughter. "They'll tell you about Saddam Hussein! "
"Did you hear what happened in New York City a year and a half ago? " asks one man who shakes in fury. "Do you know about 9/11 -- or did you just crawl out from under a rock? "
The tears are rolling now down Amaya's face. "Maybe I didn't think this through," she confesses in a moment of regret. "But I'm only here because of my conscience. I'm a strong Christian and I had to come."
Her local peace group has been threatened over the telephone with "execution" but no one here is that harsh, though the gap has clearly widened between the majority who believe this war necessary and those who do not.
The people attending this rally are sincere in their belief that the war is just and that, while Amaya has the right to her opinion, she is simply, profoundly wrong.
Two 12-year-old boys, Matthew Clark and Steven Logdon, have come to raise the flag with the Young Marines, and both stand firmly with the President on the necessity of going to war with Iraq.
"I'll do anything for my country," says Logdon.
"We're going to make a difference in the world," says Clark.
That, too, is what Amaya hoped to do, but after two hours of standing in the bitter cold, no one has warmed to her message.
Until suddenly an older man, Bill Milan from nearby Martins Ferry, his little granddaughter in tow, breaks through the small circle gathered around Amaya and says, "Listen to her -- she's right, you know."
A veteran of the Korean War, Milan says it makes no sense that "so many innocents have to die to get one man.
"There are other ways to do this."
"Thank you," says Amaya. "Thank you."
Milan nods once before leaving.
"You're brave, young woman."
© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc