Samantha Winkler’s voice broke and her blue eyes teared as she summoned the courage to read the speech she had prepared earlier in the morning to a silent crowd of several hundred people gathered in Courthouse Square to observe the one-year anniversary of the U.S. war in Iraq.
Winkler, 18, a senior at Hickman High School, used the occasion to remember her cousin, Sam Cox, of Kansas City, who died eight months ago in Iraq in what the government called a helicopter accident.
“He was only 21 and was such a great guy,” she said. “He really didn’t want to be there.” She said his family supported the war and felt he should serve the country.
“We need to understand this is real and it’s not a movie,” Winkler said. “It’s about older, powerful people sending young ones to fight for them — all for their greed for power.”
As the demonstrators gathered outside the Columbia post office before 11 a.m., a dozen counter-demonstrators faced them from across the street carrying signs such as “America’s armed forces are the good guys” and others that quoted Scriptures from the Bible.
After making a loop through downtown, the demonstrators stood or sat on the grass at Courthouse Square to listen to speakers and musicians reflect on the one-year anniversary during an event organized by the Columbia Peace Coalition.
Two banners formed a backdrop for the speakers: “We support our troops” and “Bring them home.”
The march in Columbia was one of more than 250 across the world in protest of the Iraq invasion.
Marchers carried placards with the hand-written names of some of the 571 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq. A dozen pacifists took turns reading the names, pausing to give details on the individual soldiers. Some members in the crowd stood when the name on the placard they were wearing was called.
MU philosophy professor Don Sievert carried a placard and an American flag.
“There is not just only one way of being patriotic,” he said. “It is important to understand that being able to express your opinion without unfair intervention is what America and democracy are all about.”
Justin Butler, an MU professor of Spanish, said he was thinking of his grandfather, who suffered nightmares from his time in the Army during World War II.
While helping a little girl in Germany, Butler said, his grandfather was called on his radio because the situation was becoming more dangerous. “When he managed to go back she had gone, and he always lived with the remorse of not having done enough to help her,” he said.
Columbia Police Sgt. Jack Pestle said three people were arrested on city charges by officers assisting with the march for ignoring pedestrian control signals and resisting arrest by fleeing.
The three were arrested after officers told them not to cross the street in traffic and they did so anyway, Pestle said.
“I believe they were with the march,” he said.
Pestle said Laura Kurtz, 20, of 301 N. Fifth Street, and Robert Schultz Jr., 24, of 1109 Pannell St., were both arrested at Ninth and Locust streets on suspicion of ignoring pedestrian control signals and resisting arrest. James Mitchell, 22, of 2814 Mexico Gravel Road, was arrested on those two charges as well as walking in the street, Pestle said. All three were released after posting bond.
During the march, some observers gave the demonstrators a thumbs down. Others expressed their displeasure.
Vietnam veteran R. W. Smith came out of Puckett’s on Broadway, where he works. He said the store has flown the stars and stripes every day, except Sundays, since Sept. 11, 2001.
Smith, 55, was in the infantry in Vietnam and lost his leg in 1967 in the battle of Bau Bang. He said he respects the protesters’ opinion but felt a little offended.
“They are basing their judgments on what happened in previous wars, but they don’t know anything about them,” Smith said. “I fought for my country and paid a price for it. We need to protect ourselves and stand united.”
Smith said he supports U.S. military action in Iraq.
“I don’t care if the weapons of mass destruction were there or not,” he said. “Hussein was killing millions of civilians and lying to his people. We couldn’t just stand there and wait.”
The marchers included a few Muslims wearing traditional head scarves, including Widad Sawah, 70, who left Damascus in her late 20s to further her education in St. Louis.
“I’m here today because Islam teaches peace,” Sawah said. “I’m not taking a stance just on this particular war. It is important to pray for goodness.”
Her daughter, Rihab Sawah, who teaches physics at Moberly Area Community College, was wearing a placard that represented one of the American casualties.
“Imagine being suspicious about your neighbor and deciding to attack him because you think he’s a threat,” Rihab Sawah said. “Police search his house without finding anything. Could you be excused and escape from justice? This would not happen for you and should not happen for” Bush.
George Dillard came with his wife, Mary Hosmer, and their three children: Emily, 17; Zoe, 15; and Zak, 12. Dillard and Hosmer carried a large banner with an enlarged photograph of two Iraqis taking their first Holy Communion, surrounded by family members.
“We’re all members of one human family,” the banner read.
“It was a very heartening response from the community,” organizer Mark Haim said after the event. “I saw people from every walk of life: clergymen, Jews, Muslims, academics, families, senior citizens and younger adults. We had over 500 people carrying the placards, and I would say about 600 in total.”
- Alonso Soto Joya contributed to this report.