Observance Stirs Pain

FAYETTEVILLE — Raphael Zappala winces as he describes the April day nearly a year ago when he came home to find his dad in the doorway and his mom inside sobbing. A man in a military uniform heavily decorated with medals had knocked on the door at 7:02 p.m. His brother, Sherwood Baker, a 30-year-old Pennsylvania National Guard sergeant who had moved in with the family as a 13-month-old foster child, had been killed in Baghdad on April 26, the 720th fallen soldier in a war that started two years ago.

"I think about him every day," said Zappala, 26, a food stamp advocate in Philadelphia.

The fallen soldiers and those still on active duty in Iraq were on the minds of nearly 3,000 peace advocates Saturday as they gathered in this Army-base city to commemorate the second anniversary of the war and protest continued occupation of the oil-rich country.

Across the street from the larger gathering in Rowan Park, about 150 people protested the protesters. "I kind of resent the fact that they came here where the troops are based," said Thomas Atchison, 45, of Durham. "So we say, ‘Hey, we stand up for the troops.’ "

Passionate slogans were hoisted by both sides.

On one side of the street: "Our Country Was the Best. Is it Now?," "Bush’s War is America’s Shame," "Peace is Patriotic," and "The World Says No To War."

On the other side, counter-demonstrators used megaphones trained on the park to chant "Swim to Cuba" and "We Gave Peace a Chance. We got 9/11," or "You never marched against Saddam. You never marched against Osama."

John McCreary, 59, a Vietnam veteran and retired landscaper from Fayetteville, stood quietly next to the counter-protesters and shook his head when he saw the rows of flag-draped fake coffins that war protesters carried into the park.

"It makes me angry," McCreary said. "I think it’s disrespectful to the troops, the way they gave their lives. But they have their freedom of speech. That’s what America was built upon."

Tom Bergamine, assistant chief of the Fayetteville Police Department, said that despite the contrasting views, the city had been mostly peaceful. Only one arrest was reported.

"Everything’s going real well," he said. "It’s a bigger crowd than last year, but everything’s been just fine."

Last year, nearly 1,000 war protesters gathered in Fayetteville on the first anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Barbara Clawson, 70, and Connie Hoyle, 72, traveled from their Burlington homes Saturday, in part for the camaraderie of others with like political minds and with the hope of sending a message to others in the world.

"As a Christian, I believe war is a religious issue," Clawson said. "I believe peacemaking is a value that Christianity has not been faithfully representing lately."

People came from near and far to take part in the events this weekend.

Shared grief, goals

David Potorti, a Cary resident and founding member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, drew loud cheers when he voiced his opposition to the war. His oldest brother, Jim, was killed when the World Trade Center towers collapsed 3 1/2 years ago. "I will not respond to terrorism by becoming a terrorist," he said.

Cindy Sheehan, a member of Gold Star Families for Peace, traveled from California to honor her son, Casey Austin Sheehan, who was killed two weeks after he got to Iraq.

"I hate this war because it took my son," a teary Sheehan told the crowd. "But I’m happy you guys are here to end this thing."

Like other members of military families against the war, Sheehan said she attends the rallies and protests, in part, because of a sense of duty to her son. She had terse words for President Bush.

"If he believes in this march to democracy, why doesn’t he march his daughters over there?" Sheehan said before leaving the stage.

Hugs awaited her.

Zappala was waiting nearby with outstretched arms.

"I’ve been anti-war and just a peace activist since I was in my mother’s womb," he said. "I’m happy that people are here with the same beliefs. We’re making a stand.

"If only we could be noticed, we’d be making a statement, and I have three words for people who say by doing this we’re not supporting our troops: ‘You don’t understand.’ "

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