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The New York Times

An Antiwar March Through Towns Unused to One

Michelle York

CENTRAL SQUARE, N.Y. - On Wednesday, Charlie Price was smoking a cigarette and sitting outside his restaurant, Charlie's Place, on a two-lane stretch of highway on the outskirts of town.0516 02 1

He watched as a small group protesting the war in Iraq marched toward him, carrying peace signs and waving at the cars and tractor-trailers whizzing by. "I don't think it's going to do any good," Mr. Price said of their efforts. "I want to get out of there, too, but I don't think this is the way."

Yet once the protesters, headed for Fort Drum, more than 50 miles away, reached him, Mr. Price eagerly offered them water and a place to rest - a more pleasant welcome than they had received from many others along the way.

Carmen Viviano-Crafts, 23, of Syracuse, who was carrying a small cardboard sign that read, "Bring home my boyfriend," said that some people "gave us the finger and stuff like that."

Since the war in Iraq began five years ago, the Second Brigade at Fort Drum has put in four tours.

For the past week, opponents of the war have taken several routes through the conservative and largely rural reaches of upstate New York - small communities that have sent many of their young men and women into the military right after high school and have paid a disproportionate price.

On Saturday, which is Armed Forces Day, protesters ranging from peace activists to Iraq Veterans Against the War will hold a daylong rally outside Fort Drum. What they lack in numbers - there were only about 40 on the road on Wednesday - they have made up for in passion, having walked about 80 miles so far.

The marchers started from several places, including Rochester, Ithaca and Utica, and merged on Wednesday, signifying the beginning of their final trek toward Fort Drum, just north of Watertown, near the Canadian border.

Planners say they have a dual message: to protest both the war and what they see as poor treatment of veterans who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Wednesday, marchers passed through the town of Mexico, home to Joseph C. Godfrey, 54, a business owner whose three children - a daughter and two sons - all chose to join the military.

One son, Joseph, returned from a tour in Iraq in October 2004, developed a severe case of post-traumatic stress disorder and was medically discharged. While his family was trying to get him counseling, Joseph began drinking heavily. He was robbed and murdered four months after his discharge as he walked home from a bar.

"We felt right from the beginning that if he'd been at a veterans' hospital, he wouldn't have been at the bar," Mr. Godfrey said.

Mr. Godfrey's other son, Justin, 24, has already served one tour in Afghanistan and another in Iraq. In August, he will again depart for Iraq.

When Mr. Godfrey - who joined the antiwar group "Military Families Speak Out" after Joseph's death - learned that marchers were coming through his town, he arranged for them to sleep overnight at the First United Methodist Church in Mexico, about 10 miles from here, even though he feared that the pastor might be criticized by parishioners.

"We're pointing out some of the injustices," Mr. Godfrey said. "It's everybody's responsibility to try and do what they can. And for most of us, it's not a lot, it's the little things. The march is one of them."

The marchers are an eclectic group. Some are die-hard protesters. Some are soldiers' relatives who spontaneously joined after seeing the small parade pass through their towns.

Many of them are veterans, including an 89-year-old man who fought in World War II. He rides in a car along the marchers' route, and meets the group each evening when they stop to rest.

At each town, they try to engage the community in conversation.

"We're really not here to argue with people," said Vicki Ryder, 66, who is driving along with her dog, Harry, who sits in the back seat, wearing a shirt that reads, "Bones Not Bombs." Along the way, several people have screamed at them, the organizers said, but a far greater percentage of people have expressed support.

"Many may have believed in the principle of the war at the start, but now they're saying that they want the soldiers to come back," said Kathleen Castania, 59, an organizer who lives in Rochester. Whatever the reaction they draw, the organizers say they are making headway, both emotionally and physically.

"There is some apprehension" in the towns, said Tod Ensign, the director of Different Drummer Café, a veterans'-support organization in Watertown. "But I don't believe this has ever been done before anywhere in the country. This is a first step."

© 2008 The New York Times

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