WASHINGTON -- Mike Loperico stood in an Iraqi hospital room crowded with children with missing body parts. Some had been injured by gunfire and bombs. Many struggled with disease.
As he traveled through other parts of Baghdad and Tikrit, Loperico felt the rattle of explosions and heard the shots of gunfire. At times, he said, he could have sworn the battle was but blocks away.
Loperico wasn't in Iraq as a U.S. soldier - he went to see his son, Anthony, who was stationed there. The two met after some maneuvering on Loperico's part.
With tears running down his face, Fernando Suarez del Solar, of Escondido, Calif., the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez, pictured in background, talks about the death of his son, during a news conference by military families who recently traveled to Iraq, at the National Press Club in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2003. Suarez was one the first U.S. servicemen killed in Iraq, on March 27, 2003.
The elder Loperico and eight others from across the country traveled to Iraq from Dec. 1 to 8 to see for themselves American troops in Iraq and to ask officials there and here to get the troops back to the states.
The trip was organized by four groups that have been vocal in their opposition to the war in Iraq, including Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace. At least five of those who traveled to Iraq have children in Iraq or in the military.
Yesterday, the group held a news conference in Washington, and they will travel to New York today to talk with United Nations representatives to Iraq about recalling the troops. Earlier this week, they met with some congressional staff members on Capitol Hill to try to gain their support.
While in Iraq, the group met U.S. soldiers, Iraqi citizens and civilian administrator Paul Bremer. They also talked with Iraqi Governing Council members, including Council President Abdul al-Hakim about replacing U.S. troops with UN forces.
"It seemed, from here, that things weren't going well," said Medea Benjamin, who helped organize the trip. "We wanted to find out for ourselves what's happening on the ground."
Regardless of the group's individual ideas on Iraq, members of the group all agree on one thing: They want their children home.
"If things don't improve greatly, then my son's not coming home for a very long time," Loperico said.
Fernando Suarez del Solar already knows his son will not be returning. Jesus Suarez del Solar Navarro was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Diwaniya in March. Jesus was 21.
Crying as he spoke in Spanish, Suarez said through a translator that he and his son agreed that America should fight in Iraq.
"When I looked into the faces of the children in Iraq, when I saw the miserable conditions in the hospital where the children where, I realized my son died to give an opportunity to the children of Iraq," he said.
While there, Suarez went to the place where his son died and dug up some of the dirt. Back home in Escondido, Calif., he used the dirt to plant a white rose bush, symbolizing peace.
Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.