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Military Families Honor Iraq Casualties, Protest War

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U.S. families protest war

Those who've lost loved ones in Iraq join in dissent

Timing coincides with White House PR campaign



WASHINGTON—Sue Niederer never doubted what the future held for her son Seth Dvorin and her daughter-in-law Kelly.

"Oh, those kids, they would have knocked the world apart," she says.

Instead, on Feb. 3, their worlds were blown apart when 24-year-old U.S. Army Lt. Seth Dvorin died in a blast from a makeshift bomb south of Baghdad.

It left Kelly Dvorin — who was married to her husband a mere five days before he left for Iraq — a 25-year-old widow. And it has turned Sue Niederer into a middle-aged anti-war protester.

Today, the Pennington, N.J., woman will be at the U.S. air base in Dover, Del., where her son came home a war statistic. She'll be joined in protest with other military families who have lost loved ones in a war that has so far killed 555 Americans and wounded nearly 3,200.

Tomorrow, many others will gather here in front of the Walter Reed Army Hospital, where the war's most seriously wounded recuperate, then will march to the White House. They are coming from California, New Jersey, Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, Arkansas and places in between, all paying their own way because they feel they must raise their voices to save others the anguish they feel.

"Anyone who has been killed over there has died in vain," Niederer said. "What are we there for?

"Our war is over, supposedly. Our troops should have been out. So many men and women have died, been maimed and suffered psychological problems since the president declared this war over.

"So if I can help, by doing what I am doing, get all the troops out, from all countries, then I am a happier person because then my son did not die in vain.

"Then, he died for a purpose."

Such protests are not unprecedented, but the speed with which dissent from families affected by the Iraqi war has coalesced is likely historic.

During the Vietnam War, Gold Star mothers marched with veterans against the war only rarely — until it had dragged on for almost 10 years.

These families are marching to protest a war that is a year old on Friday.

"It speaks to the immorality and illegality of this war," says Nancy Lessin of Boston, who co-founded Military Families Speak Out with her husband, Charlie Richardson. His son, her stepson, Joe Richardson, was a marine deployed to Iraq who came home alive last May.

"None of our sons and daughters have come home really safe or sound because they have all been exposed to things that could put them at risk for decades to come," she says, "whether it is depleted uranium or trauma that can cause post-traumatic stress disorder. This is not going to go away."

Protests by families who have lost loved ones will provide the counterpoint to a White House offensive as the war anniversary approaches.

President George W. Bush is sending out key lieutenants such as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to try to convince Americans the war effort has been a success.

The public relations blitz culminates with a speech by Bush at the White House on the anniversary of the war's outbreak.

Not all the anti-war families have the same objective.

Some want all the troops out now; some who are not affiliated with Military Families Speak Out want Iraq stabilized and rebuilt as a proper legacy to their loved ones.

Others are most resentful that their sons, daughters, husbands and wives were sent in harm's way without proper equipment or training; virtually all face some frustration with authorities who are slow to provide causes of death or the return of personal effects or the payment of death benefits.

Virtually all resent the fact they lost family members under false pretences because they are convinced no weapons of mass destruction will ever be found.

Jean Prewett of Birmingham, Ala., said it was the government's admission that the intelligence was faulty that caused her to speak out, even though her son Kelley, 24, a private out of Fort Benning, Ga., died early in the war, last April 6.

"He didn't even make it to Baghdad," she said. "He thought he was going to be able to go in and kick some butt and get out."

Now, Prewett is lending her voice to the cause because she wants Bush and Rumsfeld to know how families have suffered, while they act "like it's no big deal."

"I've never done this before," she says. "I'm basically pretty shy."

When her son died, she said, she received a "little snippet of a letter" from the president saying how sorry he and his wife, First Lady Laura Bush, were over Kelley Prewett's death.

But when a memorial certificate arrived, she felt a slap from the president.

"They didn't even put it in a damn frame," she said. "I mean, good gosh, the least they could do was put the thing in a frame.

"It makes me sick."

Rosemarie Dietz Slavenas, whose son Brian Slavenas was killed last Nov. 2 when his helicopter was shot out of the sky near Fallujah, speaks without rancour, in measured tones, when she speaks of the government that sent her son to his demise.

"I am not resentful of the president," she says. "But I do not find him truthful, I do not find him credible, I do not find him statesmanlike, I do not find bombing countries and calling people names an effective technique either for fighting terrorism or conducting foreign policy."

Her son and others were sent on a "snipe hunt" — a reference to the initiation rite where newcomers are sent to search for something which does not exist — in their search for weapons of mass destruction, she says from her home in Rockford, Ill.

"It was all illusion and allegation. We don't bomb on the basis of illusion and allegation. You have to have hard information before you go bombing other countries, in my opinion. I think we have abused our power."

At Dover, she believes, she will find her voice — and power.


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