Military families disturbed by a sea of crosses erected by anti-war protesters near President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, have removed crosses bearing the names of their fallen children and transferred them to another site to show support for American troops in Iraq.
Anti-war protesters "never asked for my permission to put up a cross for my son for their cause," said Gary Qualls, whose son was killed in Iraq. "They are not respecting our sons and daughters."
The rival cross camps are evidence of a growing public backlash against the anti-war campaign of California activist Cindy Sheehan, who blames Mr. Bush for son Casey's death in Iraq and has called for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gregg Garvey's son, Army Sgt. Justin Garvey, 23, was killed in Iraq in July 2003. On Tuesday, Mr. Garvey of Keystone Heights, Fla., removed two crosses bearing the name of his son that were posted at the Sheehan demonstration site -- dubbed "Camp Casey" -- outside the Bush ranch.
"I also picked up crosses of two colleagues [of his son], after their parents gave me permission to remove their crosses as well," Mr. Garvey said yesterday.
The crosses were erected by a group called Veterans for Peace as part of Mrs. Sheehan's protest that began Aug. 6.
"One by one, [Mrs. Sheehan's] crosses are coming down," said Mr. Qualls, whose son, Louis Qualls, 20, was a Marine reservist killed in Fallujah last fall.
Mr. Qualls, an Army veteran from Penwell, Texas, said he has removed three different crosses bearing his son's name from the nearly 600 erected on the narrow road leading to Mr. Bush's ranch. Each time he removed a cross, protesters replaced it, he said.
Last weekend, Mr. Qualls transferred the crosses to a site in downtown Crawford that's been nicknamed "Fort Qualls." Mr. Garvey moved his son's crosses there as well. By yesterday afternoon, friends and relatives of 13 other fallen soldiers had followed suit.
"More are on the way," Mr. Qualls said, based on the number of e-mails, letters and phone calls of support he has received.
Also, starting today, about 500 yard signs that say "Support Our Troops" and "Bush Country" will be placed on property directly across from Camp Casey by a group called GrassFire.org.
"We will also unfurl a huge American flag" to fly at the site, which is being called "Camp Reality," said Steve Elliott, president of GrassFire.org. He said his group has collected 400,000 petitions supporting both Mr. Bush and U.S. troops.
In a telephone interview yesterday from Fort Qualls -- outside the Yellow Rose souvenir shop in Crawford -- Mr. Qualls called Mrs. Sheehan's group "left-wing extremists." Her supporters include filmmaker Michael Moore and "gay rights activists, peace organizations and radical feminists," Mr. Qualls said.
"Everything they want to do is contrary to what I taught my son," he said. "Our fallen heroes deserve nothing but pure honor and respect."
Julie Curtis-Win of Fort Hood, Texas, executive director of the Texas Military Family Foundation, was at Fort Qualls yesterday, having been asked to go there by some of the 500 Fort Hood soldiers deployed to Iraq last week.
"They wanted me to go to say we support our troops and that America is one. So we're up here trying to do the right thing," said Mrs. Curtis-Win.
During the past three years, she said, about 100,000 troops from Fort Hood have been sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. On Tuesday, some mothers of Fort Hood soldiers killed in Iraq removed their crosses from Camp Casey and transplanted them at Fort Qualls. Mothers who found duplicate crosses bearing their sons' names at the anti-war site took the extras home, Mrs. Curtis-Win said.
She condemned the placement of the crosses at Camp Casey as "very, very disrespectful."
A pro-troop "You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy" tour, organized by a conservative group called MoveForwardAmerica.org, that began in California is due to arrive in Crawford this weekend.