By Jason Dearen, STAFF WRITER
CRAWFORD, Texas — At 11 a.m. Monday, Cindy Sheehan's eyes drooped from lack of sleep, she spoke a little slower and her skin was reddened from more than a week in the intense summer sun.
Since deciding to unfold a lawn chair in a grassy roadside ditch near President Bush's ranch on Aug. 6, Sheehan has done nonstop media interviews, spoken at protest events and learned her husband, Patrick, — from whom she was separated — filed for divorce Friday. After a night of reflection, the Vacaville mother of four says she is going to take time to refocus her demonstration on more of the other families in "Camp Casey" who have lost their sons or daughters in the Iraq war.
Monday, the effects of her unrelenting schedule were apparent, and the usually polite Sheehan refused to answer basic questions during a news conference. Sheehan, whose son Casey, 24, was killed in Iraq in 2004, met with the president once before, but did not choose at the time to
ask him difficult questions about the war. Now, she is demanding another meeting with the president to ask him to explain what she says are lies about weapons of mass destruction, and other reasons he gave for sending the country into Iraq.
But first, Sheehan acknowledged the intense demand for her attention from her supporters and detractors has made her lose sight of her goal: To honor her son's death by demanding answers.
"We have to get back to our original mission and message," she said.
Since her story reached a national audience, Sheehan has seen a number of volunteer and paid organizers from liberal anti-war groups appear to help her manage what has become nonstop requests for her time.
Her journey is far from finished. She has vowed to stay put until Bush meets with her in person, or until Aug. 31 when Bush goes back to Washington, D.C.
Sheehan said she slept only an hour Sunday night because she was upset by attacks levied by the right-wing media and talk radio hosts.
She also said she realized that during her first weekend in Crawford, she became caught up in the events staged by different groups who appeared to help her, and had begun to lose sight of why she was there in the first place.
Monday morning, after a night of soul searching, Sheehan said she realized things had gotten out of hand.
"This last week almost killed me. ... I want the focus off of me now. I'm not the only one in America who wants to answer these questions," she said, referring to other families of soldiers killed in action.
Sheehan has been joined throughout the week by dozens of veterans and family members of some of the 1,854 soldiers killed in the Iraq war so far.
She has found strength in the tumultuous week of intense public attention."I have discovered things about myself that I didn't know. I'm strong, I didn't know that. I'm persistent," she said.
Sheehan did not comment about her impending divorce, but said earlier that she was separated from Patrick because the two had philosophical differences. His family members have also written a letter critical of Sheehan's demonstration.
Monday morning, sitting in a camper van with the doors open, Sheehan hugged and took photographs with people who had driven to Crawford to see her. Across the road, three pro-war demonstrators gathered. One played a guitar, singing a song about Sheehan and her supporters "aiding and abetting the enemy." A local rancher drove a red pickup truck wildly through a patch of grass near the camp and parked across the road, blocking traffic.
Secret Service agents ran over to check it out. The rancher, who did not identify himself, said he was tired of the protesters and angry that his complaints to authorities had been ignored. Then he drove away slowly.
A few minutes later a hard rain began to fall, causing the anti-war demonstrators and reporters to duck under a leaky tarp. With no tarp, the few Bush supporters ran to their cars until the brief storm passed.
Despite this roller-coaster ride she has been on, Sheehan has no regrets. She said she would not change a thing. "I would do it all over again."
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