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Sheehan Rallies Antiwar Troops in Santa Monica

By Ann K. Williams and Gene Williams

November 8 -- Tourists out for a late-season stroll Sunday afternoon halted in silent wonder at the thousands of white crosses just north of Santa Monica Pier, but few noticed Cindy Sheehan, the celebrated antiwar activist.

The sound of taps quietly clashed with the rock music that blasted from the nearby amusement park, an ironic and unsettling dissonance, as the unassuming 48-year-old mother spoke to reporters.

“We just want people to know the true cost of war, that it’s not a game that George Bush is playing with our families,” Sheehan said standing before a row of flag-draped coffins at the grassroots memorial known as Arlington West.

Arlington West (Photos by Gene Williams unless otherwise indicated)

Meanwhile, local activists were gearing up for the coming weekend’s Veterans Day protests.

Next Saturday, members of Veterans for Peace – who have set up the crosses on the beach each Sunday for more than a year and a half – plan to carry 100 of the mock coffins through the streets of Santa Monica.

“You know, I lost my son,” Sheehan said. “My son was killed for no reason and I’ll never see him again and it never should have happened and it should stop right now.”

Looking like any other mom out for a day at the beach in her red sweatshirt and red, white and blue sneakers, the former housewife and Roman Catholic youth minister from Vacaville was approachable and relaxed as she exchanged words and hugs with older couples and young adults.

Cindy Sheehan, former Airman Tim Goodrich and former Navy computer technician Maricela Guzman

Getting ready for the TV cameras, former Airman Tim Goodrich -- now a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War -- asked Sheehan “How’s this look with the collar?”

Sheehan carefully arranged his shirt collar over his sweater, giving him a pat and words of encouragement, like a mother with her son.

Sheehan gained notoriety last August when she camped out near President Bush’s Crawford ranch demanding an explanation for her son’s death. Casey Sheehan had died in an ambush in Iraq a year earlier.

“It’s surreal. I have trouble comprehending it,” Sheehan’s sister, DeDe Miller said Sunday.

They both saw Casey’s death on TV at the same time and instantly messaged each other.

“The minute I saw the humvee burning, I knew it was Casey,” said Miller, adding that it’s common for bereaved families of servicemen to “know” that their loved ones died before they get the call from the military.

The activism of Sheehan and Miller, cofounders of Gold Star Families for Peace, has burned bridges within their family.

Sheehan’s husband divorced her during her Crawford vigil, and her in-laws denounced her outspoken opposition to the war in an email that found its way to Matt Drudge.

“It was very painful,” Miller said. “They’re on the other side of the political world.”

Arlington West vigil, October 30, 2005 (Photo by Frank Gruber)

When asked how she found the strength to persevere, Sheehan said “I think number one my strength is coming from my son, and number two it’s coming from the tens of thousands, the millions of people in harms way still in Iraq.”

Sheehan encouraged young protesters to keep up the pressure on the Bush administration, a “clear and present threat to (their) future,” before there’s a draft.

With the number of Americans dead at 2,046 and climbing, support for the war and President Bush have fallen to an all time low.

Fewer than a third of Americans now say that the war is being managed well, according to a recent CBS News poll, and only about a quarter think the president is leading the country in the right direction.

Dissatisfaction has grown in recent weeks sparking demonstrations across the nation including Santa Monica, where several hundred young people and their parents took to the Downtown streets Wednesday afternoon to protest the war. (See related story)

Earlier this year, Veterans for Peace sent 800 of their crosses from Santa Monica to Sheehan’s Crawford vigil (See related story)

But most of those visiting the makeshift memorial Sunday were not political dissidents, but simply curious tourists and visitors unaware of Sheehan’s presence.

Like many others, 14-year-old Clarin Davis of Palmdale came to the beach Sunday without knowing the memorial would be there.

She placed a rose at Arlington West "to show respect for my country and to honor the soldiers."

Clarin Davis of Palmdale

Erin Blue, a young woman in her twenties, had come with two friends to ride the Pier’s roller coaster when the sight of the white crosses drew them down to the beach to find out more.

Blue, whose cousin died in Afghanistan four months ago, began to cry.

“It’s becoming more and more apparent to me that everyone in this country is being touched by this (war),” Blue said. Arlington West, she said, “reminds us not to forget.”

But whether or not her cousin died for a good cause is a question she can no longer deal with.

“I can’t go there anymore, because I have to believe he died for something,” Blue said. “It’s not up to me to say whether it was right or not.”

Before Blue and her friends left that day, they wrote a note for their dead relative and friend, Major Stephen Reich. They posted it next to a list of names of other Americans who died in Afghanistan.

“Dear Stephen,” it reads. “We’re playing football on the beach today. Wish you were here.”

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