On a day when they knew they would be outnumbered and out-shouted, more than 200 supporters of the Iraq war nonetheless gathered yesterday at the U.S. Navy Memorial to get out their message.
They were military families and members of such organizations as Move America Forward and RightMarch.com and Protest Warrior, and they were determined to be heard.
The crowd cheered when William Greene, president of RightMarch.com, called the antiwar protesters "the Sheehanistas." They cheered again when he said: "Our voices will not be silenced. We are the majority."
For the counter-protesters, the day began at a downtown hotel several blocks from the Navy Memorial, with a news conference held by about 20 Gold Star Families for Peace. The message most of them delivered was simple: Cindy Sheehan, the antiwar mother who led a vigil outside President Bush's Texas ranch after her son was killed in combat, did not represent them.
Many of the family members held photographs of loved ones killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Debbie Ellsworth of Wolverine, Mich., had a framed photo of her son Justin, who was killed Nov. 13, 2004, in Al Anbar province, Iraq. "I know what kind of grief Cindy Sheehan must have because of the death of her son. I feel that same grief for my son," Ellsworth said, "but remember that she does not speak for me."
Ellsworth said that she was not going to watch the antiwar march and that she had no desire to confront Sheehan. "We are not here to change their minds," she said. "I don't want to go and debate you. I don't want to argue with you because as strongly as I feel, they feel just as strongly in her group."
Deb Meyer of South Bend, Ind., was standing next to Ellsworth and holding a picture of her son Jason, who was killed April 8, 2003, in Iraq. She said that another son has enlisted in the Army and that a third son plans to enlist when he graduates from high school.
"It really irks me when I hear people describe us as pro-war," she said, "just because the other side is antiwar. I am not pro-war. I don't think the president is pro-war. I don't think any of the soldiers fighting are pro-war. They have a mission, and they are going to do it."
Counter-protesters will hold their major event of the weekend today at noon: a rally on the Mall at Fourth Street NW to support the troops.
At yesterday's rally at the Navy Memorial, one man carried a poster with a picture of a World War II soldier on it and the words: "How about rooting for our side for a change, you liberal morons?"
Betsy Deming, 47, of Takoma Park was holding a sign that read: "U.S. soldiers are true heroes. Our mission is just and honorable. Stay the course." In front of her passed a steady stream of antiwar protesters coming up from a Metro station.
"Follow the stench down the street," Deming said to them as they passed. "Follow the stench of urine and burning American flags. That's where your rally is."
From the Navy Memorial, most of the counter-demonstrators made their way to the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building shortly after 1 p.m. to watch the antiwar demonstrators march along Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Many of them yelled at the marchers: "Shame on you! Shame on you!"
At one point, the two sides began shouting "USA! USA!" at each other. And one woman, waving an American flag, said the same thing over and over to the marchers: "We love you. We love you."