ASSOCIATED PRESS WIRE
War Backers Start Camp Near Bush Ranch By ANGELA K. BROWN
Saturday, August 20, 2005 10:05 PM EDT
CRAWFORD, Texas - A patriotic camp with a "God Bless Our President!" banner sprung up downtown Saturday, countering the anti-war demonstration started by a fallen soldier's mother two weeks ago near President Bush's ranch.
The camp is named "Fort Qualls," in memory of Marine Lance Cpl. Louis Wayne Qualls, 20, who died in Iraq last fall.
"If I have to sacrifice my whole family for the sake of our country and world, other countries that want freedom, I'll do that," said the soldier's father, Gary Qualls, a friend of the local business owner who started the pro-Bush camp. He said his 16-year-old son now wants to enlist, and he supports that decision.
Qualls' frustration with the anti-war demonstrators erupted last week when he removed a cross bearing his son's name that was among hundreds the group had put up along the road to Bush's ranch.
Qualls called the protesters' views disrespectful to soldiers, and said he had to yank out two more crosses after protesters kept replacing them.
Cindy Sheehan, whose 24-year-old son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, died last year in Iraq, started the anti-war demonstration along the roadside on Aug. 6. "Camp Casey" has since grown to about 100 core participants, and hundreds more from across the nation have visited.
Sheehan vowed to remain there until Bush agreed to meet with her or until his monthlong vacation ended, but she flew to Los Angeles last week after her 74-year-old mother had a stroke. Her mother has some paralysis but is in good spirits, and if she improves, Sheehan may return to Texas in a few days, some demonstrators said.
In her absence, the rest of the group will keep camping out for the unlikely chance to question the president about the war that has claimed the lives of about 1,850 U.S. soldiers.
Bush has said he sympathizes with Sheehan but won't change his schedule to meet with her. She and other families met with Bush about two months after Casey Sheehan died, before she became a vocal opponent of the war.
Large counter-protests were held in a ditch near Sheehan's site a week after she arrived, and since then, a few Bush supporters have stood in the sun holding signs for several hours each day.
Bill Johnson, a local gift shop owner who created "Fort Qualls," said he wanted to offer a larger, more convenient place for Bush supporters to gather.
He and others at "Fort Qualls" have asked for a debate with those at the Crawford Peace House, which is helping Sheehan.
It's unclear if that will happen. But a member of Gold Star Families for Peace, co-founded by Sheehan and comprised of relatives of fallen soldiers, said her group would not participate.
"We're asking for a meeting with the president, period," said Michelle DeFord, whose 37-year-old son, Sgt. David W. Johnson, was in the Army National Guard from Oregon when he was killed in Iraq last fall. "We don't want to debate with people who don't understand our point of view."
A service of the Associated Press(AP)