SAMMAMISH -- A Yuen Lui portrait of the handsome soldier sits atop Vicky Monk's old upright piano, next to a stack of cards that read "Bring them home now."
The soldier is in Baghdad.
The mom is on the streets of the Puget Sound region, carrying signs that read, "Iraqi oil is not worth my son's blood" and "Love our troops. Hate the war."
How could a mother and son be so far apart?
Anti-war activist Vicky Monk with a photo of son Tim, who is serving as a First Armored Division squad leader in Iraq. And that's Tim's dog, Jake. (Photo/Phil H. Webber/Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
"I tried to explain to him what the bring-them-home-campaign is about, and he asked: 'But how can we leave the Iraqi people?' " says Vicky Monk, 48, a high-tech software tester for Eastside firms.
"I told him Bush needs to turn over the rebuilding of Iraq to the U.N., and he said, 'Mom, the U.N. can't do anything right.' "
Her son, Army Spc. Tim Monk, 20, sent her a "Support our Troops" pin emblazoned with yellow ribbon, instructing her to "wear the pin at all times until I return."
She wears it proudly -- to weekly demonstrations, peace vigils, to lectures on what it's like to be opposed to a military operation in which her son is involved.
"It's really heartbreaking, because I believe this war is wrong, and I think it's so unfortunate that my son and all these other soldiers have to be involved in it," says Vicky, in a small, quiet voice.
For her on-the-streets stance, she has been yelled at, told to "Get a job," and branded a "traitor."
Vicky says that when she told one angry grandmother she hoped her grandson stationed in Iraq would get home safely, the woman responded, "Well, I hope your son dies!"
Her son asks only that Vicky stays safe and doesn't get arrested at protests. "He says, 'Mom, you just keep speaking out, and I'll keep protecting your First Amendment rights to do so,' " she says.
"He says, 'Mom, I know you're doing this because you love me.' "
Vicky is part of a small but growing number of organized military families opposed to the U.S. presence in Iraq. She lobbies for veterans' rights, prepares care packages for overseas soldiers, is helping recruit Vietnam vets to help returning Iraq soldiers.
She belongs to both Veterans for Peace, with 3,500 active members nationally, and Military Families Speak Out, with 1,000 families as members, offering support and counsel.
"I know the hell you are going through," she wrote to another soldier's mother on the Military Families Speak Out online bulletin board.
"Every day I pray that (my son) is healthy, safe, drinking enough good water, and getting what he needs. I pray that the bullets and the bombs and the heat do not harm him."
Her attitudes on war were shaped in high school, when she thumbed through a Life magazine and opened to a spread on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam.
"I couldn't believe anything like that could happen, couldn't believe the horror. It was shocking to me," she says.
High school was also a turning point for her son -- a kid who always loved playing with guns, despite his mother's wishes.
Struggling with grades at the alternative Robinswood High School in Bellevue, Tim decided to quit, take his G.E.D. and follow the advice of Army recruiters on campus.
Vicky remembers the night her 17-year-old son told her he had invited someone over to meet her. When she opened the door, a man in military uniform strode in and politely explained all the Army could do for her son, if she granted permission for him to enlist.
She said no, not until Tim was 18. Two days after his birthday on April 1, 2001, her son -- whom she describes as a "free-thinker" -- went to get his Army physical.
"He was not willing to budge," says Vicky, who now visits recruiting sites with her own pamphlets that ask: "Is this a spur-of-the-moment decision you may regret later?"
The single mom didn't intend to become a letter-writing, sign-waving activist. But when the drumbeats of war started up late last year, and she realized her only child might be sent to fight, she said she was moved to action.
"I felt like I have to do it. I would never be able to forgive myself if -- God forbid -- something happened to my son and I had just sat here and done nothing."
Her son is now serving as a First Armored Division squad leader at the former Republican Palace in Baghdad -- headquarters of interim government officials leading reconstruction efforts -- where he says snipers fire up over compound walls, raining down random bullets on soldiers.
Mom says she can no longer watch CNN reports on Iraq casualties. "I can't do it -- it's too much stress," she says, her voice growing even quieter. "I worry about him SO much."
She worries what will happen to him there, as guerrilla attacks against soldiers gain momentum.
She worries what will happen to him when he hits home again, and the memories replay -- the rocket-propelled grenade attack he missed by a hair, the soldier who put a gun to his head and committed suicide before his eyes.
"I'm very worried about post-traumatic stress disorder," she says.
Her son doesn't dwell on problems in letters home. He alludes to low morale, but only briefly. Mostly, he asks for ham radio magazines, baby wipes, sci-fi books and goodies, tells her he's OK and advises her not to send any more Skittles. "I hate them."
Calls are few and far between. He talks about Army life, about getting out in May after three years -- re-enlisting would mean returning to Iraq -- and she talks about her life, about the protests and regular Friday-night vigils at Anderson Park in Redmond.
He listens, never criticizes, and stands his ground.
It's the way it works between a mom and son who are so far apart, and both trying to do what's right.
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