By Greg Moses
“Every voice that comes behind Cindy Sheehan sparks a new voice, and someone else stands up. Someone else is not afraid anymore.” Mona is speaking from the back seat of a Camp Casey shuttle as the Texas prairie speeds past. Today Mona is not afraid what the President will think. But she is worried to death about her son, who is headed for Iraq next month. Mona’s anti-war movement is on a tight schedule indeed. Even the national protests scheduled for Sept. 24-26 in D.C. may be too late.
“I was on Air America earlier this week,” says Mona, answering to the usual round of “where you from?” She called the radio station from Ohio to defend Cindy Sheehan’s protest action, and someone asked her if she was planning to go. “Well, if I can arrange it, I’ll go,” Mona recalls. After she hung up, the station got calls. Someone offered a plane ticket from Ohio to Texas. Another offered the rent car. “So I’m here for at least a week, but I can always just turn in the rent car and stay longer.”
As we debark the shuttle on a recent afternoon, Deputy Kolinek from the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department is looking jovial. “You’ve got a question written all over your face,” says the khaki starched Kolinek to a t-shirt clad protester. “What is it?” As Kolinek listens to the question, a woman hands the deputy a chilled bottle of water which he opens right away.
A mist of cool water hits me in the face. It’s Fran, one of my traveling hosts. She has grabbed this delightful contraption from a CodePink bag of tricks. It’s a spray-gun mini-fan combo in bright plastic colors. All I can say is “do it again!” Days out here are like this. Juxtapositions of worry and joy, anger and delight, water and tears.
Over on Prairie Chapel Road, beneath a few freshly erected white crosses, some flowers have been placed. For 24-year-old Kelly Prewitt of Alabama, someone has placed a collection of colorful cut flowers on the ground. Florist delivery trucks are not uncommon out here. According to a CBS news report archived at the pigstye Iraq Page, Prewitt wrote his dad to say he was homesick. Back in the fateful month of April 2003 when Kelly was killed, his dad Steve was quoted saying he hoped his son’s death would mean something, that the war would do some good. Out here in the blazing light of August, Kelly’s mother Jean tells a French wire service that her whole attitude toward the war changed in December 2003 when the reason for starting the war was exposed as “a big lie”.
For 22-year-old Irving Medina of Middletown, New York, someone has cut wildflowers from the prairie–a sunflower and a purplish bulb from a nettle or thistle. Irving’s twin brother Ivan had just survived an 11-month tour in Iraq when a West Point officer and chaplain, dressed in their best uniforms, knocked at the family home. They were soon followed by tv cameras. Irving had been killed by a “homemade grenade” while on patrol in the streets of Baghdad in late 2003 reported the Times Herald-Record of Hudson Valley. He was going to propose to a woman when he returned. All the family knew was her name: Leslie. Was it Leslie who cut the wild flowers today? As I search to find a Crawford connection, all I come up with is Medina, holy city of the prophet.
A rose and a daisy have been placed at the cross of 20-year-old Christian Schulz of Colleyville, Texas, who was stationed at nearby Ft. Hood. His death is attributed to “non-combat” causes, but he died in a war nevertheless, July11, 2003. Finally, although no flowers yet appear at the cross of Pablito Pena Briones, Jr., who died from a “non-hostile gunshot” in Falluja, something about the name Pablito reminds me how young a 20-year-old can be.
By the time I reach the end of the line, Mona is bent over, trying to rattle loose one of the crosses from a pull-cart. From a string, hanging around her neck, dangles a laminated photo of a young man in uniform.
“Mona, is that your son?” I ask. She looks up, slightly startled, then, “Yes, that’s him.” Standing up, she twirls the picture to show me the flip side, a photo of her three grandchildren. Two of them are from her son’s family, one is from her daughter’s, but she has made a group photo for her son to take with him, to give him hope, to encourage him to come back alive. Back to her work with the crosses, she says in a wavering voice, “I sure hope I don’t have to put out one of these for him.” And we both stand there crying. “Where are all the mothers,” she asks, “that these crosses belong to?” A Korean reporter looks at us, and he is also frozen stiff by this grief. His pen hovers over his notebook, but what exactly is there to say?
“Ma’am, do you want me to help you put names on those crosses?” asks the gentle voice of a brand new volunteer who has just walked the line. Which helps to get us all moving again. Under the high sun, with cicadas and crickets buzzing from their invisible homes in the grass, Mona, with her hat brim pulled down, returns to her work among the field of crosses at Prairie Chapel Road.