Charlie Anderson, a former Navy corpsman and Iraq veteran, should be attending the first day of classes today at Tidewater Community College in Virginia, listening to a political science lecture.
Instead, he is living a civics lesson, camped out on a dusty road in Crawford, Texas, supporting a grieving mother as she protests against the war that killed her son and scarred Mr. Anderson for life.
"I didn't know him," Mr. Anderson said. "But I was a veteran of the same war; so he's my brother."
Mr. Anderson, who grew up in Toledo but left to join the Navy in 1996, is one of hundreds of people drawn to support Cindy Sheehan, who set up camp outside President Bush's Texas ranch earlier this month while the President vacations there.
Her son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, was killed in an attack in Iraq last year. Ms. Sheehan has sought a second meeting with Mr. Bush to press her plea to pull all U.S. forces out of Iraq. Her first, along with some other families of fallen military personnel, was at Fort Lewis, Wash., just a couple of months after her son died on April 4, 2004. And since then, she has been a fixture in the anti-war movement, traveling from one end of the country to the other.
Ms. Sheehan's attempts to pressure the President to grant her an audience and withdraw from Iraq have made her an unlikely anti-war celebrity, drawing headlines and Hollywood stars to her vigil.
Yesterday, in front of the President's ranch and across the nation, candlelight vigils were held calling for an end to the war. More than 1,600 vigils were planned from coast to coast, according to the organizers, liberal advocacy groups MoveOn.org Political Action, TrueMajority, and Democracy for America.
As the sun set in Crawford, 100 protesters lit candles and placed them in plastic cups to shield them from the breeze. They gathered around a wooden, flag-draped coffin.
"Anybody and everybody has camped out here," Mr. Anderson said during a telephone interview yesterday. "People saw it on the news, jumped in a car, and came here."
Mr. Anderson, who is the southeastern regional coordinator for Iraq Veterans Against the War, was early on the scene, arriving at the small tent encampment on Aug. 7, a day after Ms. Sheehan, and returns intermittently.
The 28-year-old who now lives in Virginia Beach, Va., has his own reasons for protesting on the President's doorstep. As part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Mr. Anderson was assigned to a tank battalion that blazed a trail from Basra to Baghdad. He was discharged in 2005 because of post traumatic stress disorder.
"What affected me was the carnage and the starving kids," he said, adding that troops were ordered not to give locals water. "I still have nightmares."
Those experiences have driven him to protest everywhere he can against a war he sees as immoral and unjust, even if it means leaving his 3-year-old daughter, Abegel, behind.
"It's hard to be doing this when she is at home, but I don't want her to have to go to war," Mr. Anderson said. "When she grows up, I hope she'll understand."
And if Ms. Sheehan, her supporters, and Mr. Anderson ever do get to talk to the President, he will have plenty to say.
"I'll ask him what did Casey die for, what was this noble cause we've heard so much about," Mr. Anderson said. "I'll say, we want our troops home now."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.
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