September 4, 2005
Battle lines were defined last weekend in Crawford, Texas by a little road called Prairie Chapel. On one side was Camp Casey, Cindy Sheehanâ€™s Gold Star Families for Peace site. Over 800 rose and ribbon adorned crosses, two and three deep, extend a quarter mile along the road shoulder. Most bore the name of a fallen warrior of the Iraq war.
Camp Reality set up base directly opposite marking their territory with Bush/Cheney campaign signs. Reality, headed by Gregg Garvey whose son, Sgt Justin Garvey was killed in Iraq, had placed a 30â€™ flag pole bearing the United States flag and the banner of Garveyâ€™s organization, Lest They Be Forgotten (lesttheybeforgotten.org).. Each camp, the â€˜anti-war/bring-them-home-nowâ€™, Camp Casey and the â€˜pro-war/Bush/stay-the-courseâ€™, Camp Reality, proudly flew the same colors; red, white and blue. Crawford police stood sentry requesting that both sides stay separate.
My friend, singer-songwriter, Janet Bates, and I had made our way to Crawford, Texas on Sunday, the 28 th of August. We had each gone to Crawford for our own reasons. Janet has been an activist all her life but only began writing songs the day of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. She looked forward to supporting Cindy Sheehan and singing to an audience of like minded people.
For my part, I went to Crawford not only in support of bringing our troops home immediately but because only providence separates me from Cindy Sheehan. My Marine son has served two tours in Iraq. Two of the crosses erected along the side of Prairie Chapel Road but for five seconds in one case and five meters in another would have born my sonâ€™s name. Five seconds, five meters, almost nothing and yet everything. I really needed to be there.
Signs, banners, tee-shirts and ribbons all emblazoned with the latest catchy one-liners that define the spirit of the two sides, decorate the camps and their inhabitants. â€˜Freedom isnâ€™t Freeâ€™, â€˜Im4Wâ€™, â€˜Stay the Courseâ€™ and â€˜Support Our Troopsâ€™, are countered by â€˜What is the Noble Cause?â€™, â€˜No More Blood for Oilâ€™, â€˜What Would Jesus Bomb?â€™ and â€˜Support Our Troops, Bring Them Homeâ€™.
Only a road apart and yet worlds apart. Almost nothing and yet everything. Our nation now so polarized is defined by conflict. We instinctively choose sides. Squaring off reds against blues, the left versus the right, the good guys against the bad guys, we cannot even agree on the definition of patriot. Nevertheless, in the setting Texas sun on Monday evening these two disparate camps, if only for a moment, found one bit of common ground to share.
Camp Casey had planned a candlelight vigil to honor the fallen troops before removing the crosses and taking them on to Washington, DC. At the commencement of this vigil, Jeff Key, an Iraq veteran made a suggestion. Key, who at 6â€™5â€ and solid as a rock, looks every inch the Marine he is, asked how the group would feel about inviting Camp Reality to join us for the vigil. A take charge Marine, Key set rules of conduct that we would have to abide by. This was not to be a political ceremony. Everyone agreed.
Key and two Camp Casey members along with a police escort crossed Prairie Chapel Road as the rest of us watched in the fading light of the evening. After a few moments, Key and Garvey, who stands at least a foot shorter than Key, both lifted the flagpole from its base and together carried it to Camp Casey followed by most of the members of Camp Reality. Camp Casey clapped softly, relieved that the offer had been accepted. One member of each camp held the flagpole during the ceremony while the warm wind blew the flags out straight and beautiful.
Hymns were sung, candles lit and the names of the fallen called out by their family members. As Key played Taps on his bugle, chests were heaving in grief and remembrance. Both sides wept openly and freely as stranger gripped stranger burying tear stained faces into unfamiliar shoulders all united in grief. There on that little bend of windswept road we all discovered that we loved and we grieved and we suffered. We also agreed that we all very much want that these warriors, sons and daughters, never be forgotten.
The vigil ended with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner whereby Key and Garvey carried the flagpole across the road, setting it back in place. One of the Camp Reality women was overheard saying, â€˜I never realized there was so much pain on their sideâ€™. Probably many at Camp Casey had not realized the same thing. It is my opinion that we share one other piece of common ground. We each of us, the reds, the blues, the pro-war and the anti-war, all really love our country.