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Iraq War Opponents Stage Protest Near Fort Bragg

Chris Dodds, 36, an Army veteran who lives just outside of town, held a sign that said "Protest policy in D.C. -- Support the military in Fayetteville."

"All we are here are families, and they should be supported. There's no policy being made here. They should take the protests somewhere else," Dodds said.

A pro-military demonstrator blocks the camera of an antiwar protester at a rally in Fayetteville, N.C., a few miles from Fort Bragg. (Photos Logan Mock-bunting -- Getty Images)

Despite a heavy police presence and testy exchanges between the two groups, no arrests had been made as of late Saturday afternoon.

The speeches began when the procession reached Rowan Street Park just after midday.

Pat Elder, an antiwar activist from Bethesda, laid out 100 cardboard coffins draped in U.S. flags to symbolize the war dead. Another organization distributed dozens of "peace parasols," black umbrellas adorned with painted messages. Earlier, costumed puppeteers danced to drumbeats in a dramatic interpretation of the Pablo Picasso painting, "Guernica," which depicts the Spanish Civil War.

Celeste Zappala, 58, of Philadelphia wore a sandwich board with a large photograph of her son, Sherwood Baker, a Pennsylvania National Guard sergeant who was killed in an explosion in Baghdad last April.

A co-founder of the group Gold Star Families for Peace, composed of family members of service members killed in Iraq, Zappala said the rallies force the public to pay attention to the human cost of the conflict.

"It's really important for people to understand that those who lost children and spouses are devastated, and you can't just turn off the war when you turn off the television," she said.

The others who spoke included Daniel Berg, the father of Nicholas Berg, a civilian contractor who was kidnapped and beheaded in Iraq last year, and Camilo Mejia, a deserter who turned himself in to military authorities last March. He said he had served nine months in the brig at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and was discharged last month.

Many speakers directed their remarks to soldiers still serving in the military.

"There is nothing more important today than building links and giving aid and comfort to the members of the armed forces who are turning against the war in greater numbers," said Thomas Barton, a union organizer from New York and the editor of GI Special, an antiwar e-mail bulletin.

"The rebellion in the armed forces of the United States will stop the war," he said.

Joshua Despain, who said he deserted his Army unit soon after it returned from Iraq last April, drove 11 hours from Panama City, Fla., to be at the rally. He was discharged from the 82nd Airborne and now works as a security guard.

"Basically, after a while, I didn't buy any of it," said Despain, 23, who wore jeans, his uniform top and a red military beret. "I saw the Iraqi people as no threat and couldn't see why people were getting killed for this. I wanted to share what I had been through with the others."

Asked for a reaction, Maj. Rich Patterson, spokesman for the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, said: "Some of our fellow citizens are concerned over the conflict in Iraq , and it is important that they be able to peacefully express that concern."

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