COLUMBIA — At first, four men with handwritten signs lined up along the edge of the grass in front of the main branch of the Columbia Post Office on Saturday morning.
Within a few minutes, an Iraq War veteran showed up and decided to hold a sign with them. Moments later, a longtime Quaker joined the bunch, too.
And soon enough, there were nine people protesting on the grass, discussing the war and holding signs with messages against it.
The group, Mid-Missouri Fellowship of Reconciliation, has been protesting in front of the post office every Saturday for the past 25 years. This particular vigil marked its 25th anniversary; after it ended, some people stuck around and ate celebratory cake together.
Not all of the protesters have been there week after week, but one protester, 86-year-old John Schuder, has missed only a handful of the peace vigils in 25 years.
With a few exceptions, the group has protested Saturday after Saturday, said Schuder.
Over the years, with changes in wars and attendance — sometimes two or three people come out, sometimes 15 or 20 — come shifts in reactions to the group, Schuder said. "Nobody screams at us anymore. They all say, 'Great,'" he said.
What keeps the protesters coming out year after year?
"Unfortunately, there have been more reasons to continue ... to have a peace vigil due to the ongoing U.S. militaristic posture internationally," said Jeff Stack, the group's coordinator. Stack comes to the Saturday vigil about once a month. On Saturday, he held a sign reading, "Afghanistan, Iraq — U.S. out now ."
Paul Allaire, who served in the Navy from 1986 to 1997, joined the protesters on the lawn, his first time with this group, for similar political reasons. He held two signs: One stated, "Peace on Earth," and the other, "Shut down U.S. 'Gulag' of secret global prisons."
"I'm mostly against our foreign policy," Allaire said. "I think the fact that we went into Iraq is ridiculous. The fact that we're still there ... is ridiculous."
Carolyn Doll, a member of the Quaker faith for about 35 years, held a sign stating, "Quakers oppose all war."
"You know, we don't need military solutions," she said. "We need to make decisions that are win-win situations on all sides."
For Schuder, the motivation is personal.
"I think the reason is I want to be able to save myself when I die," he said. "You didn't succeed unless you tried. I'm talking about the war, of course — wars."
His sign read: "War is not the answer!"