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The exodus of grief and anger to Crawford

The Oregonian
Tuesday, August 16, 2005

When the three Army officers finally tracked Michelle DeFord down at her Colton home last September, she didn't believe their story: "I kept thinking to myself, while the soldiers were talking to me, 'They're going to straighten this out, I know it's a mistake, David calls home every Monday.' "

And his message was always the same. "He kept telling me he wasn't doing anything dangerous," DeFord said. "He kept telling me he was safe." That gunfire in the background? "That was just Iraqis celebrating another soccer victory."

Thus, when the Army said she had 24 hours to notify her family before her son's death became public, DeFord didn't reach for the phone: "I just kept thinking that I don't want to get everyone upset, because I know this is wrong."

Almost a year after Spc. David W. Johnson, a 37-year-old cook turned machine gunner, was killed by a roadside bomb on a supply run to Taji, Michelle DeFord still thinks something is irrevocably wrong. That's why she and Lynn Bradach will fly to Texas on Wednesday, drive to "Camp Casey" and join Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside the Crawford ranch of President George W. Bush.

The nation is at war, the president is on an extended vacation, and DeFord and Bradach are the mothers of dead soldiers. Bradach's son, Marine Cpl. Travis J. Bradach-Nall, 21, of Portland, died in July 2003 while clearing a Karbala minefield.

In the months following her son's death, DeFord was too numb to wrestle with her pain in public. "I didn't speak out for a while," she said, "because I felt I'd be viewed as a grieving mother who was misguided."

But she has been inspired by Sheehan and her ability to energize the anti-war movement from a dusty outpost outside the president's 1,600-acre ranch. Sheehan has pledged to maintain her vigil in Crawford until Bush sits down to speak with her directly about the death of her son, Casey, a 24-year-old Army specialist who died in an Iraqi rocket attack.

DeFord first met Sheehan in Florida last October when both worked on a get-out-the-vote campaign. Since Sheehan formed Gold Star Families for Peace, the two women have grown quite close, staying in each other's homes when DeFord travels to the Bay Area or Sheehan journeys to the Pacific Northwest.

"I have never met anyone so determined, so calm, so rational and so well-spoken under these circumstances," DeFord said.

Sheehan makes no bones about her anger that Bush describes the death of her son as "noble." Her determination to keep that outrage and her anguished opposition to the war in public view, even as the president enjoys mountain biking and fundraising on his five-week August recess, has been particularly cathartic to other parents who count their sons and daughters among the 1,850 Americans who have died in Iraq.

"I'm so proud of Cindy," Lynn Bradach said. "I've had a really tough time this spring. I got to the point where I couldn't handle the news anymore." She was fleeing media coverage of the deaths of 19 Marine reservists from the same Cleveland battalion when she was swept away by the story of Sheehan's arrival in Crawford.

"The minute I read the article, I said I should be there to support her," Bradach said. "There should be many more mothers there."

This pair will tote backpacks and a tent into the sauna of summer in Texas and onto the firing range of those who scream these families aren't "supporting the troops."

"We're in Bush country," Bradach said. "There will be a lot of detractors, people saying we aren't patriots. I'd like to know what they've given up.

"There is no way our children died in vain, not if we pay attention, not if we learn. I'm proud of my son. I love the Marines. And I'm very much against this war and always have been.

"I guess our children went and were sacrificed for us to take a look at what we let happen. We let this war happen. If nothing else, this is a huge lesson. Watch who you vote for. Watch what they're telling you. Don't be so afraid."

Steve Duin: 503-221-8597;; 1320 S.W. Broadway, Portland, OR 97201


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George W. Bush along with his entire cabinet needs to be run out of office, tried in a court of law and if found guilty of their crimes, as they most surely would, be imprisoned for the rest of their lives like any other common mass murderer.

The bald faced, outrageous lies still coming out of their mouths led directly to this illegal and immoral war and to the deaths of over 1800 (more?) of our women and men.

There is reason to believe that over 100,000 INNOCENT Iraqi civilians have died in ways we can't even imagine. These are numbers the Bush crime syndicate is doing their best to keep out of the public eye.

Bush is using our tax dollars to commit murder, over and over and over again.

It's time to put a stop to all of this, right now!!

I don't understand why people voted for him at all. There must be some voting citizens out there who don't pay attention to what is going on in our country. Don't they think it was crazy enough that he was put in by the Supreme Court and not by popular vote? They had to vote for him a second time! Wasn't it crazy enough that he turned the attention off Afganistan, where Bin Laden was, and over to Iraq quicker than you can blink with huge military force? Now the gas prices are going way up to the sky! Do we know if that is related to all this? No one is paying attention to what is going on within our country. It's all about Iraq now. How about house prices going sky high or the fact that the US isn't manufacturing anything anymore. People are living off the equity of their houses. Is that good? Health costs are sky high? Our US dollar is worth less now than ever. Too many jobs created now are either retail or service industry. How crazy is all this? And then to top it off, he wants to get rid of Social Security. Obviously he doesn't care about fixing our domestic problems.

Other Presidents were very careful since Vietnam not to have a war started. They knew the consequences. Military force was only sent in when they knew the outcome after the Vietnam War. But not this president. That's because HE doesn't care. It's plain and simple. He has an agenda and with the help of God he will accomplish it!

Americans honor our military and support them. They are the bravest people on earth because they do their duty which includes what the Commander in Chief wants them to do, no questions asked. That is their job and they do it very well. We could never do without our military. The problem is we can really do without this President and his crew. I don't think any one of them served in the military. There is talk that the president was in the military but so far he hasn't shown to me that he knows anything about what it is like to be at war or much proof that he did his duty while there.

It is a huge decision to send people to war. A decision that should take time to make and Congress should have asked questions about going there in the first place. There are so many questions being asked right now about this Administration it is a wonder they are lasting this long. I just want more people to start speaking up. Next year in 2006 people have a chance to vote out representatives that aren't doing a good job. Take time to figure it out this time before you vote.

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