- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

As Congress this week honored parents whose sons or daughters have been killed in Iraq, some families said Cindy Sheehan and her anti-war group do not represent them and are disrespecting the fallen soldiers.

“You can’t call into question the integrity of the commander in chief without having it call into question the integrity of those under his command,” said Diane Ibbotson, whose son Army Cpl. Forest Jostes, 21, died in April 2004 outside Baghdad.

“Let’s talk about the things they’ve accomplished,” she said, listing the end of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Iraq’s first free elections, and the building of schools and hospitals.

Mrs. Sheehan lost her son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, 24, in the same battle as Mrs. Ibbotson’s son, and both women became part of American Gold Star Mothers, a nonprofit, apolitical group of families whose children have died fighting in wars.

On Wednesday, the House passed a resolution, 416-0, honoring the goals and ideals of the American Gold Star Mothers, which began in 1928. House lawmakers held a bipartisan news event yesterday to honor them.

American Gold Star Mothers President Judith Young stressed that the group does not comment on political issues.

Mrs. Ibbotson said it “angered” her that Mrs. Sheehan seemed to be speaking for all of the families who lost children, so she decided to speak out.

Others had stronger words.

“What has she done, rather than bitch, gripe and complain?” said Gary Qualls, whose 20-year-old son, Marine Reserve Lance Cpl. Louis Qualls, was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, last fall.

“There should be nothing but full honor and full respect. Coming from Cindy Sheehan’s camp, there’s has been nothing but dishonor and disrespect,” said Mr. Qualls, who created “Fort Qualls” in Crawford, Texas, to counter Mrs. Sheehan.

Mrs. Sheehan gained national attention and a following of hundreds as she camped outside of President Bush’s ranch in August. She is in Washington with members of her group, Gold Star Families for Peace, to lobby lawmakers and participate this weekend in anti-war events, including a massive rally tomorrow.

Mrs. Sheehan and two other mothers also teamed up with Win Without War for a million-dollar ad campaign.

Chuck Larson, president of Families United for our Troops and our Mission, is countering Mrs. Sheehan this weekend in a rally Sunday to support the Iraq effort.

“These families are oftentimes very frustrated with what’s occurring in Washington with the anti-war protesters, and they feel it’s time to speak out,” he said.

Mrs. Sheehan yesterday said she is, indeed, supporting the troops by asking lawmakers to bring them home from Iraq.

“What’s harmful for the troops is putting them in harm’s way for lies,” she said. “I think that’s harmful to morale.”

She and several members of her group yesterday met with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. They went to the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to meet with him, but were turned down. Aides for the Tennessee Republican said the request was “under review.”

Mr. Frist’s chief of staff meet with the group instead, but Mrs. Sheehan said Mr. Frist and a few other Republicans who denied meetings, “want to stop dialogue” because “it might be harmful to their political careers.”

Among Mrs. Sheehan’s group yesterday was Carlos Arredondo, whose 20-year-old son, Alexander, was killed in Najaf, Iraq, on Aug. 25, 2004 — his father’s birthday.

Mr. Arredondo lobbied, but said he wasn’t there as a Republican or Democrat, just as someone who wants the troops to come home.

“My son did a wonderful job, and other troops did a wonderful job, but it’s time to bring them home,” Mr. Arredondo said. “I’m here to make a difference.”

Parents from both groups carried with them — and eagerly showed — tangible mementos of their fallen children.

Mrs. Ibbotson carried a photo of her son and his best friend right before they shipped out, Mr. Qualls carried a poem honoring his son, and Mr. Arredondo, originally from Costa Rica, carried a poster-sized photo of his son, whom he called “my American dream.”

Lawmakers honored these grieving families at the American Gold Star Mothers event earlier yesterday.

“With each soldier that does not come home, there’s a family that suffers the most,” said Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican.

“I can only imagine the pain,” Rep. Shelley Berkley, Nevada Democrat, told the mothers.

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