CRAWFORD — Military veterans came to President Bush's adopted hometown Tuesday to speak against the administration's Iraq policies.
Three veterans' groups opposed to the war as well as a Republican group supporting Sen. John Kerry for president were represented at a sparsely attended news conference at the Crawford Peace House. The former service members say Bush is misleading the public about Iraq and drew comparisons with the Vietnam War.
"It's just a sad reality the country finds itself in," said Manuel Sustaita, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam from Waco, of the war in Iraq. "I, for one, am insulted by this administration trying to deceive the American public."
Sustaita, 60, represented Veterans for America, an organization founded by the four Bolanos brothers of El Paso. All four brothers served in Vietnam and are backing Kerry. The group is sponsoring "The Last Patrol," a caravan of veterans traveling through the southwest, showing support for the Democratic presidential contender. The Kerry supporters will arrive at 11 a.m. today in Waco at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2148 at 301 Tennessee Ave.
Paul McDaniel, of Waco, who fought in the Army in Vietnam, said veterans are beginning to speak out more about the war in Iraq. They are doing so, despite doctrine learned in the military that "yours is not to ask why, yours is to do and die," said McDaniel, 54, a member of the Veterans for Peace organization.
He also read a statement from a group of Iraq veterans opposed to the war. That organization chided the administration's conduct in what it called an "illegal invasion of Iraq."
"Because of our government's failed policies, it is (soldiers') lives that are being put on the line," said Michael Hoffman, a Marine Corps veteran of the 2003 Iraq invasion and co-founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War. "It is (soldiers) who are asked to make this ultimate sacrifice. A sacrifice that over 1,000 Americans have made. But we still cling to this failure. It should be painfully obvious that the occupation is not the solution to what is happening in Iraq."
McDaniel said the administration's attempts to let Iraqis take over more of the burden at the present stage of fighting is reminiscent of the failed "Vietnamization" policies by the U.S. in Vietnam.
"The Iraqis are nowhere near ready to take on combat missions or to have free elections," said McDaniel.
Lindsay Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C., said the veterans have fought for the right to express their opinion. But she said the president's policy on Iraq is a key to keeping terrorists from the U.S. heartland.
"If we don't fight in places like Baghdad and Kabul, we will be fighting in places like Kansas City," Taylor said in a phone interview, adding the administration simply has a difference of opinion with the anti-war veterans.
Also adding to the mix of voices at the small news briefing was a statement from a group called Republicans for Kerry that claimed Bush was leading the party in the wrong direction. Joshua Collier, resident volunteer of the peace house, read the statement of a member of that Republican group. He said opposition to the Bush administration's policies in Iraq were not limited to any political party.
"The questions are much larger than politics," said Collier, 24. "People are moving across party lines. Like the Peace House, the truth is nonpartisan."
Though big Bush banners and signs are highly visible throughout Crawford's small downtown area, the dissent coming from the house that is a focal point for peace groups is not totally unique in the president's back yard.
Kerry won the endorsement of Crawford's weekly newspaper over the town's famous resident. The Lone Star Iconoclast, with a circulation of 425, said Texans should rate the candidates not by hometown or political party but where they take the country.
The paper was established in 2000 and endorsed Bush that year.
Taylor said the veterans supporting Kerry at the Crawford event do not reflect the general feelings of Texans toward the president, who is expected to have no problem at all carrying his home state.
"Unfortunately for them, I think the president enjoys very, very strong support in Texas," Taylor said. "I don't know how well their message resonates."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
© 2004 The Waco Tribune-Herald