Bev Titus of Dexter says she feels uniquely connected to Cindy Sheehan, the mother holding a vigil outside President Bush’s Texas ranch to protest the death of her son in the Iraq war.
Like Sheehan, Titus has lost a child. Her daughter Alicia, 28, was a flight attendant on Flight 175 out of Boston, which struck one of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I know what it feels like to lose a child and to ask questions and not get answers. Not get answers that make any sense," Titus told more than 200 people gathered at a downtown Ann Arbor plaza Wednesday evening to support Sheehan’s protest.
The local rally calling for an end to the war in Iraq was among was among hundreds held nationwide Wednesday. Protesters from Washington to Los Angeles joined an effort spurred by Sheehan’s anti-war protest in memory of her son Casey, an Army mechanic, who was killed in Iraq last year.
Titus and her husband, John, are members of Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an advocacy group organized by family members of Sept. 11 victims.
Titus, bearing a T-shirt with her daughter’s photo, said she and her husband adamantly oppose the war because the Bush administration tied it to the terrorists who killed her daughter, when proof of such a connection does not exist.
Ann Arbor resident Tracey Metry said she brought her 7-year-old daughter, Jori Griffith, and 5-year-old son, Kyin, to the rally so they could witness how people in the community are responding to important issues they talk about at home.
"I feel (Sheehan’s) message, as a mother, is real important to hear and when we talked about it at home my daughter was outraged that the president wouldn’t meet with her," Metry said after watching both of her children submit letters to Sheehan and Bush into collection boxes at the rally.
A simultaneous candlelight vigil was planned closer to the University of Michigan campus on Sheehan’s behalf Wednesday evening, organizers said.
In heavily Republican Livingston County, about 100 people staged a candlelight vigil on the lawn of the historic county courthouse in downtown Howell, while on the nearby sidewalk a group nearly as large held a counter-demonstration to show support for Bush and the war in Iraq.
Brighton resident Donna Anderson says those who staged the counter-rally were unsuccessful in spoiling the candlelight vigil she organized to show support for Sheehan. Anderson said the vigil was partially held to protest the war in Iraq but also to honor U.S. troops who have died there, including 55 Michigan residents.
Brighton Township resident Marsha Main, the mother of four grown sons, said the Bush administration has gotten into a quagmire.
"I think (the war) is a mistake, but they won’t admit it and we’re in over our heads," she said.
Main emphasized she supports the efforts of U.S. troops although she doesn’t agree with the reason why they were sent there. She said she "just sent a huge care package” to U.S. troops in Iraq.
Nelson Wilson of Hartland said the counter-demonstration he joined was peaceful, but got its point across.
"It’s been a spontaneous kind of thing," Wilson said. "It’s not so much to show (opposition to the other group) as it is to show our support of the president, the military and its mission.”
More than 1,600 vigils were held from coast to coast, drawing tens of thousands of people, according to the organizers, advocacy groups MoveOn.org, TrueMajority and Democracy for America.
In western Michigan, hundreds of people, some the parents of soldiers on duty in Iraq, participated in a vigil in Grand Rapids. Another group of about 100 people marched outside the federal courthouse in Detroit.
In Crawford, Texas, more than 200 people joined Sheehan as they silently clutched candles and gathered around a flag-draped coffin around a makeshift campsite near President Bush’s ranch, where he is vacationing.
"For the more than 1,800 who have come home this way in flag-draped coffins, each one … was a son or a daughter, not cannon fodder to be used so recklessly,” Sheehan said. "Each one is a valuable human life that is missed so desperately.”
Demonstrators in Nashville, Tenn., carried candles, flags and banners, including one that read: "Thank you for your courage Cindy.”
Sheehan, of Vacaville, Calif., has said she won’t leave Texas until Bush’s monthlong vacation ends or he meets with her and other grieving families.
Bush has said he sympathizes with Sheehan but has made no indication he will meet with her. Two top Bush administration officials talked to Sheehan the day she started her camp, and she and other families met with Bush shortly after her son’s death and before she became a vocal opponent of the war.
Some critics say Sheehan is exploiting her son’s death to promote a left-wing agenda supported by her and groups with which she associates.
Before the Crawford vigil began, Gary Qualls, of Temple, walked to the protesters’ memorial to fallen U.S. soldiers and removed a wooden cross bearing his son’s name. Qualls said he supports the war effort even though his 20-year-old son Louis was killed in Fallujah last fall serving with the Marine Reserves.
"I don’t believe in some of the things happening here,” he said. "I find it disrespectful."
A group called FreeRepublic.com held a pro-Bush rally in the same Washington park where 300 people had gathered for a candlelight vigil. At one point, members of the two sides had a heated exchange over who was more patriotic.
"If they don’t want to support it, they don’t have to support it," said Iraq war veteran Kevin Pannell, who had both legs amputated after a grenade attack last year in Baghdad. "That’s the reason I lost my legs."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.