Dispatch From Camp Casey

Aug. 15, 2005

I went back out to Crawford this week to see for myself how things are going and what it’s like there now. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was just absolutely amazing.

I left in the wee hours of the morning Saturday in a caravan with members of Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) from Houston. I think it was about 10 a.m. by the time we arrived at the Peace House. There were so many cars and people there that I had to drive to the stadium to park my car and catch a shuttle back to the Crawford Peace House. I was told there was going to be a rally at noon at the stadium and that I needed to be there.

While at the Peace House, I met Juan Torres, another member of Gold Star Families for Peace (GSFP) who I didn’t know about and hadn’t met before. We clicked and I made a friend for life, I think, just like with the rest of the members I’ve met. Juan and I hopped in a shuttle and went out to Camp Casey. On the way there we encountered some counterprotesters parking their cars, taking out their signs and flags and walking toward Camp Casey. I thought it interesting that they had to park so far away – about a mile, I think. They started walking toward Camp Casey, blocking the road, walking on the road, which made me a little irritated. I felt they should have been treated the way Cindy, Dede, and I were on Aug. 6 when we initially made the march to the ranch and had to walk in the ditches. These people were allowed to be on the road, to impede traffic. There were police and security everywhere.

When we finally got to Camp Casey, I was stunned. When I left a week ago this past Sunday, there were about a dozen people there, a few folding chairs, banners and signs. It looked nothing like it does now. The place has been transformed. There were more people than I could possibly count. People had come and set up tents and chairs in the ditches to stand in solidarity with Cindy and for the cause of peace. It was amazing.

I couldn’t stay, though. I had to get back to the Peace House. I tried to find Cindy, but couldn’t locate her (I should have looked for the camera crews, because she is surrounded by them constantly). On the way back to the Peace House, we once again encountered the counterprotesters, who, for the most part, were vocal but not confrontational in the least. As we drove by I gave them the peace sign, which most people responded to in a positive way, waving back, smiling.

When I got back to the Peace House I found Bill Mitchell, also of GSFP. We hadn’t met before, but I’d seen pictures of him. He was giving an interview. I waited for him to finish before I introduced myself to him. We immediately hugged and laughed once he knew who I was. It was a wonderful moment for me.

Later I met Dante, Al, and Raphael Zappala, wonderful men who are dedicated to ending this war. I liked them immediately and was so happy to have met them. I also met Celeste at the rally, although she was busy doing other things, so I didn’t have the chance to visit with her as I would have liked. She has also been on the front lines to end this war for quite some time. Later I would meet Sue Neiderer, if only briefly, at the rally along with several other members of GSFP and MFSO whom I had not even heard of before. I had the feeling of family, of a common bond too terrible to even think about.

The rally was great. There were several hundred people there all to support Cindy and to help us further the cause of peace. Several members of GSFP talked and gave interviews, but I don’t really care for doing that myself. I’m a bit camera shy. I prefer to go out and work the crowd, talk to people and find out where they came from and why they’re here, and thank them for coming. I talked to so many interesting people that day who just wanted to come hug Cindy or be a part of what was going on.

Many people have reported about the rally and the details of that event so, once again, I’ll skip the details myself. To be honest, I don’t remember them. I only remember the feeling of euphoria in knowing so many had come from so far away because they knew this was something they had to support no matter what. It was absolutely amazing.

Veterans for Peace had a pretty good show, as did Iraq Veterans Against the War. Some of those guys have been in Crawford the whole time. They are so dedicated to peace, to the peace movement, and to Cindy. Again I must say that I love these men and will always have a soft place in my heart for them.

The counterprotesters were at the rally, but we didn’t really have any problems with them. Some wanted to pick fights with us, but we generally didn’t engage with them.

After the rally, we drove in a long caravan back to Camp Casey. Juan, Tammera from MFSO, and I were in my car, which I was driving.

On the road back to Camp Casey, I was pleasantly surprised to see most of the counterprotesters gone. When I initially drove up, Cindy was standing at the end of the triangle, looking down the road to see all of the cars, stretched out for miles, coming to support her. I rolled my windows down to wave at her, and she came running, calling out my name. I asked Tammera to park the car for me as we were holding traffic up. Juan and I jumped out to hug Cindy and Dede, and we were immediately surrounded by cameras snapping our picture as the four of us hugged and cried. Cindy asked me if I could believe what this had become from what we started a week ago.

I stayed with Cindy for a little while, talking in front of the cameras, before stepping out of the crowd. I wanted to see for myself what was going on, to wander around in the crowd and take in the energy of the place. It was amazing. I hadn’t seen the crosses except in pictures. I hadn’t seen the tents set up under the canopy or the dozens upon dozens of flowers sent by well-wishers when I had gone in earlier that day. As I wandered up the road by myself, I started to weep.

I wept for joy that so many people from all over the country and the world would join Cindy and lend their voices to her cause, to our cause. I wept with sorrow at the tremendous loss we had all suffered. I wept because I no longer felt alone in my grief and anger at the loss of my own son. At that moment, I felt that Casey and Jeremy would be proud of their moms for what they were doing.

As I stood there on the side of the road, tears streaming down my face, a stranger came to me to see if I was okay. She didn’t know who I was because I didn’t have a GSFP shirt on. She comforted me, brought me Kleenex to dry my eyes and wipe the tears, made sure I had water to drink. We introduced ourselves to each other. For the rest of the day, she was pretty close by if I needed anything.

The camaraderie at Camp Casey is unreal, almost surreal to me. Members of GSFP only have to state a need and it is met almost immediately. Sometimes we don’t even have to say anything; people keep an eye on each other out there, and if one person sees that another person is getting overheated, seems to be struggling, or is in some kind of distress, they are taken care of right away.

There was another rally at Camp Casey once most people arrived from the previous rally. Those who spoke and participated at that rally stood on the back of a truck parked in the ditch. The crowd got so close, especially when Cindy was speaking, that I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage, so I sat back in the shade on the road to listen. People respond to Cindy in a way that I have never seen before, and it is amazing. She is their hero.

The whole time of the rally there was a sheriff’s helicopter circling round and round above Camp Casey. At first they kept their distance, and it wasn’t any big deal. When Cindy got up and began to speak, the helicopter got down closer. It seemed they were trying to drown her out. I would certainly hate to think that was why they got so close. A couple of times some of us thought they were going to land nearby, but they never did.

While Cindy was speaking, the counterprotesters across the street, who by now had dwindled down to less than a dozen, tried to taunt us. For the most part we ignored them, although there were at least one or two people that I know of that did have a little discussion with them. They were quickly led away to cool off.

When Cindy asked for a moment of silence to remember America’s fallen, the counterprotesters kept yelling and taunting. I couldn’t believe the disrespect they showed, but I shouldn’t have been surprised by this.

Afterwards, I continued to wander around the crowd, talking to people, hugging them and thanking them for coming and for their support.

We heard about a group of Blue Star Moms who were coming from Houston to meet with Cindy. They wanted to give her a hug, or at least that was the report I had heard on the news the night before. So a meeting time was set up for 5:00 p.m. at Camp Casey. There was to be no media and it was supposed to be private, just the Moms and members of GSFP. The Moms never showed up.

However, a man named Gary did come to meet us. Gary is from Temple, Texas, and he lost his son, a Marine, last November in Iraq. Gary was very broken up about his son dying, but very proud of his son, who truly is a hero in every sense of the word. This big, proud father cried when he told us the story of his son, going into every detail he could remember. He came to tell us that we were wrong politically and we should support our president. All of us sat in a circle of chairs on the side of the road and shared our stories together. Later Gary was invited to join us at the Crawford House for a beer. He came out and spent several hours there, visiting with other people and doing interviews with the press.

Back at the Crawford House, we had dinner and cleaned up a bit. The ladies there fussed at me because I hadn’t used sunscreen or worn a hat that day. I was overheated and sunburned, and I clearly needed to cool down, so they made me take a cool shower. There was plenty of food and drink for everyone.

A busload of Pastors for Peace drove up to meet with Cindy and offer their support. I thought that was really nice.

We heard a rumor through some media source that the president was going to talk to Cindy. It didn’t happen.

I had originally intended to just make a day trip to Crawford and Camp Casey. However, I couldn’t find a rider to drive back to Houston with me and it was late. I was tired. My husband insisted I stay and get some rest before heading back, so I stayed the night. It seemed that the Crawford House was hopping all night long, or at least long into the night. Visitors wanted to hang around and talk, to linger in the moment for as long as they could.

The people coming to Crawford are amazing. One lady, Lorraine, flew out from California, complete with cooking supplies, to cook for Cindy for the week. Others dropped everything when they heard what was going on, driving across the country just to hug Cindy and tell her “thank you.” Many times they would rest up a bit before turning right around to go back home. Still others are spending their vacation time at Camp Casey.

Cindy is amazing. She spent all day long with reporters, giving interviews and having her picture taken. Never once did I see her turn down a request from someone who came to see her. She hugged every man, woman, and child who came to say thanks. Everyone wants something from Cindy, but I think she receives as much from her supporters as she gives to them. Cindy is absolutely, one hundred and ten percent, dedicated to her mission of ending this war and bringing our soldiers home.

Today, once again, I sit in awe of the events occurring at Camp Casey. Once again I am proud to be an American, proud to be from Texas, and proud to be part of something larger than myself.

Thank you America for your support, your encouragement, and your love.

By the way, a baby watch update for all those who have asked: We are still waiting the arrival of my first grandchild, a little boy to be named Aiden Russell Smith after the uncle he will never know, Jeremy Russell Smith. The doctor said today he will induce Thursday.

Author: Erik Leaver and Daniel Atzmon

Erik Leaver is the Policy Outreach Director for Foreign Policy In Focus and is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Daniel Atzmon is a student at Wesleyan University and an intern at the Institute.