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; Steveduin@aol.com; 1320 S.W. Broadway, Portland, OR 97201
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