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War protests hit home
Cindy Sheehan stops at Hastert's office in Batavia
By Ed Fanselow
BATAVIA — One week removed from a 26-day vigil that has been credited for reigniting an anti-war movement, peace activist Cindy Sheehan made a brief stop here Wednesday, vowing to continue her protests until all American troops return home.
The visit to the district office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert marked Sheehan's first public appearance outside of Texas, where she spent more than three weeks camped out near President Bush's Crawford ranch hoping to speak with him about the Iraq conflict and her son Casey, who died there last April.
Sheehan said Wednesday she has since given up hope of meeting with the president and is instead committing herself to "exposing a war based on lies and deception" during a three-week tour of American cities that will culminate with a Sept. 24 march in Washington, D.C.
Although she spoke for less than a minute here during one of the first stops of that tour, Sheehan was given a rock star's welcome by a raucous crowd of more than 300 supporters who came from around the Fox Valley and as far away as Wisconsin and Iowa.
Group leaders said they had hoped to coax a meeting with Hastert either in person or by telephone, but his aides said he was in Washington and unavailable.
Meanwhile, about 50 counter-protesters — many of them waving Hastert and Bush-Cheney campaign signs — stood nearby shouting "Go home!" and "Traitor!"
Sheehan, for her part, focused her remarks on the victims of Hurricane Katrina, whom she said were "collateral damage" of the war in Iraq. Hundreds of Louisiana national guardsmen who could have helped with relief efforts were instead overseas, she said.
"We need our troops home now," she said to uproarious applause. "We need to have them here to protect America."
Other soldiers' families
But while Sheehan was the event's main attraction, much of the afternoon belonged to several other families whose children are also among the nearly 1,900 U.S. troops to have died in the ongoing war.
Al Zappala of Philadelphia told the crowd that his son, Sherwood, was killed "looking for weapons of mass destruction" long after officials admitted they had found none.
"He didn't deserve to die for that lie," Zappala said.
Likewise, Karen Meredith of Mountain View, Calif., said her only son's death in Iraq means she will never get to plan for a wedding or know the joy of grandkids.
"My son was proud to be a soldier, and I was proud of him," she said. "But I am not proud of this administration exploiting the patriotism of this country's people for an un-noble cause."
Not all military families, however, have embraced Sheehan so enthusiastically.
Jim Frazier of St. Charles, whose son Jacob died in Afghanistan in 2003, said he turned out in the hopes of telling Sheehan face-to-face that "she doesn't speak for me."
Shortly after her remarks, he managed to pull her aside and the two spoke briefly.
"Nobody is for war," Frazier said afterward. "But we can end this thing faster without Cindy Sheehan hurting our troops' morale by being so divisive.
"No matter what your politics are, the truth is that divisiveness doesn't help."