We are in Crawford, Texas. We are sunk down into the soil of our country, digging in for a few days near the President's ranch. Our friend Cindy Sheehan has been entrenched here for a week, demanding a meeting with the President.
We've come to speak up for a man who is now forever silent. Sgt. Sherwood Baker, our Sher, was a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard. He was killed in Baghdad last year. He was on duty for the Iraq Survey Group. He was looking for weapons of mass destruction.
We came to bear witness to this event and to share our story. As we hover beneath the surface of the drama between Cindy and the President, we've rediscovered the real cause of the antiwar movement. We have been gathering with other military families from around the country. Some have loved ones in Iraq now. Others are Gold Star families who share in our sad fellowship of grief.
We sit together in the searing sun, on a tiny strip of roadside, two miles from the comforts of the President's ranch. We've camped in thunderstorms and been attacked by fire ants.
We have now in Crawford an invaluable collection of ordinary Americans who can speak a plain and irrefutable truth about the reality of the Iraq War. If the President, and the rest of America, had the patience for these stories, we might find the capacity to stop this unending tragedy.
We're here with moms like Sherry Glover. She came in from Houston with her daughter, Katie, and her 3-month-old granddaughter, Dakota. Katie enlisted in the Army. Stationed in Korea, she met her husband. He's in Iraq now. Katie is on Immediate Ready Reserve, and it is within the realm of possibility that she, too, could be activated when her maternity leave is over.
Soldiers visit the Glover house regularly. When they come, Katie peeks fearfully out of the window to study their clothes. She knows a class A Army uniform could be the messenger there to say, "We regret to inform you... " She sighs with relief when she realizes that they are merely recruiters who have come, yet again, to talk to Sherry's 19-year-old twin sons.
Phil and Linda Waste came from Hinesville, Ga., to support their three children and two grandchildren, all active-duty military. Between them, they've served 57 months on tours of duty in Iraq. The Wastes say they would like to know how much more they must give to a war in which they don't believe.
Mary Sapp, age 8, came from Massachusetts with her mom and big sister. She says she'd like to know why her dad, a National Guardsman, can't return home from Iraq.
We're humbled by their struggles. We realize that our story is, in many ways, complete. Sherwood will never return to us. For these families, and more than 100,000 like them, every day involves another bargain with God.
The President vacations nearby, using the readily available press corps to tell these families that their loved ones will come home when things get better in Iraq. To these families, this statement pulls hope from under their feet. They know from the phone calls, the e-mails and the return visits home that things aren't getting better in Iraq. They're getting worse.
The President offers them the guarantee that he cares. And then he reiterates his plan for success in Iraq: More of the same. That's a tough sell to the folks here at the encampment. More of the same has a unique meaning to them. It means redeployments to a war zone, increased vulnerability to physical and mental injury and a guarantee of family hardships.
And so we sit together in our spontaneously created community of peace. Reporters and huge broadcasting trucks navigate the muddy ditches to cover the sensationalism of this event. We stare out toward the ranch, wanting to tell a simple story with the hope that it can end a terrible war.
Celeste Zappala is the mother of Sgt. Sherwood Baker, who was killed in Iraq in 2004. Dante Zappala is the brother of Sgt. Sherwood Baker.
© 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer