It was a whirlwind that began Monday morning August 8th when I phoned some of the folks who are involved in erecting the Arlington West memorial every Sunday on the beach just north of the pier, to see what they thought of the idea of bringing Arlington West to Crawford, Texas, where Cindy Sheehan was camping outside the gates of the Bush ranch.
Cindy Sheehan is the mother of Army Specialist Casey A. Sheehan who was killed in Sadr City Baghdad on April 4, 2004.
Ed Ellis of Veterans for Peace, who is one of the vets who helped create the Arlington West memorial and Tonya Young of the Topanga Peace Alliance, thought it was a great idea and helped line things up quickly. We called Crawford to make sure that Cindy Sheehan wanted the crosses out there, getting an enthusiastic, “Absolutely, yes” from Ann Wright, Cindy’s right-hand-woman, Camp Casey organizer, and 29-year Army Veteran/Foreign Service Officer.
From the moment we came up with the idea to the moment we hit the road towing a trailer full of 1,000 crosses was a mere 32 hours.
Kathleen Hernandez, who has a lot of experience setting up the memorial, and I hit the road in an extended cab, heavy-duty diesel pick-up with a covered bed and tow-hitch that was donated, along with a credit card for fuel and $300 in cash for expenses.
In Phoenix, we picked up my girlfriend, June Brashares, who flew from San Francisco to meet us.
Despite some heavy rain and hail along the way, we rolled up to the Crawford Peace House at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday, August 10. After a brief, but cordial greeting at the Peace House, we were off to Camp Casey to meet Cindy and start to scope out a place to set up the memorial.
At that time, Camp Casey did not have a lot of infrastructure. There were still only about 25 people and not much in terms of supplies. There was Cindy’s tent, a few other tents and a few organizational tables all crammed into the ditches along the roads up against the barbed wire. Over the next 48 hours, the camp would explode with many more people, donations of food, drinks, flowers, porta-potties, tarps, and most other things needed for camping in roadside ditches.
We started early Thursday morning – recruiting volunteers and setting up crosses; “Arlington at Crawford” had arrived. That evening, we walked slowly along the long row of crosses reading the names aloud as the sun set over the prairie.
Texas in August is hot and humid, fire ants attack your feet or any exposed body part, chiggers burrow into your skin overnight and you awaken with an itching worse than a mosquito bite. Antagonistic Texans occasionally roared by in their pick-ups at unsafe speeds very close to those of us in the ditches.
The first wave of Bush supporters arrived on Friday, the 12th. They got out of an air-conditioned tour bus, waved U.S. Flags, shouted at us, and then got back on the bus and left within an hour.
On Saturday, more Bush supporters showed up. Most of Cindy’s supporters were away from the camp at a rally at a park near Crawford. The confused Bush supporters stood in the sun for about an hour and then started to trickle away, having very few people to harass.
Shortly thereafter, the folks who had come from out of town to Crawford for Cindy’s rally started arriving at Camp Casey, which is located about six miles from Crawford on the way to the Bush Ranch. The line of over 200 cars for us stretched as far as the eye could see.
We met a lot of wonderful people out there from all over the country, including Texans from Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, and many other smaller cities who came out to show their support in any way they could.
We met Beatriz Saldivar of Fort Worth who unfailingly carried a large photo and memorial for her nephew Sgt. Daniel Torres who was killed in Iraq in February, 2005. She told me that she cries every day and went on to say that she is dedicated to raising awareness about the war in the Latino community, and plans to work on counter recruitment efforts in high schools.
As Brashares said, “It was so heartbreaking to hear from the Gold Star Family members (families who have lost loved ones in war), Iraq War vets, and vets from other wars, all of whom had very poignant and compelling things to say about what’s going on in Iraq and how it is affecting their lives.”To keep up with what’s going on with Cindy Sheehan’s efforts to meet with George Bush, visit www.meetwithcindy.org.