Sallie Stubenhofer and Rhonda Winfield won't be marching today. Nor will they march in two weeks, when the antiwar crowd gathers on the Mall. Sallie and Rhonda don't have Web sites devoted to their views, or TV anchorpeople sweet-talking them for interviews, or consultants asking them to lend their names to a candidate's event.
They're just moms who looked up one day and saw the uniforms walking up to their door with the only news such people ever bring.
Now it's been nine months since Sallie knew her Mark wouldn't be coming home and seven months since Rhonda accepted her crisply folded flag from the officers who buried her Jason. They miss those boys more than anyone else will ever know. And still the war goes on, a curious war, one that drifts in and out of the headlines, a war with no real battles and no clear line between victory and defeat.
Every day there are more mothers like Sallie and Rhonda. A very few of them become people like Cindy Sheehan, the Iraq war mother everyone has seen on the tube, the one who decided that what her boy was sent off to do was wrong and that she needed to tell the president exactly what she thought.
Rhonda Winfield couldn't disagree more with Sheehan's take on the war, yet she has not one word to say against another mother. "Anyone who's experienced those uniforms coming to the door has the right to make their position known," says Rhonda, who lives on her family's farm in Stuarts Draft, Va., south of Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley. "I can understand wanting to protect any other mother from having to hear that news, but if you follow what she says, then our children's lives have been given in vain, and I know that's not true."
Rhonda continues: "If an immediate pullout would mean life could go back to normal in that country, then that would be absolutely the right thing. But if we do that, that tells the world we've cut and run. You can't change your opinion just because it hit your child."
She says this even though her oldest son, who is 21, is in the Army and could be deployed to Iraq anytime. Hers is not a military family; Marine Lance Cpl. Jason Redifer, who was 19 when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, and his brother were the first in the family to serve. But once 9/11 happened, Rhonda says, "their fates were sealed. We have always been a God-and-country family."
And now, even though she also has two younger sons she might see on a military field someday, "well, if my sons could stand up for their ideals, I realize I have to show my resolve as well."
Sallie Stubenhofer felt much that way back when U.S. forces first went to Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. And when her son, Army Capt. Mark Stubenhofer, went to Iraq, "I always supported him and his decision. But I'm not sure I always agreed with it. Everyone kept telling me it was necessary for us to be there, but once it came out that they couldn't find any weapons of mass destruction, it kind of strengthened my view that what were we doing there?"
At home in Springfield, mother and son discussed the conflict for months. Mark tried to convince her that even if the Iraqis didn't have chemical weapons, the war made sense because "we could change them, and the young people over there could see there was a better way to live. I could buy into that," Sallie says.
Even now, she thinks it's possible to plant hope in Iraq. Toward that end, her family created Mark's Hope, a charity that sends school supplies to Mark's unit and others, so U.S. forces can distribute them to Iraqi children.
But Sallie's doubt keeps growing, and now she says: "I don't believe we're there for the right reasons. But I certainly don't know how we get out."
She wouldn't do what Sheehan has done, "but I understand it, because the grief is just unbearable, and this war is for a cause you just can't feel 100 percent right about." And yet she knows this: "I will never, ever, ever feel like my son died in vain."
She's glad both sides are marching because "it makes everybody think," and what could be more American than that?
And while these two moms might not read the politics the same way, they agree on one thing Rhonda says: "At the end of the day, we are all Americans, and after the arguing, whether you believe our troops should be there or not, well, they are there, and they are our sons and daughters."