WASHINGTON – Joseph Williams has much in common with Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq whose protests outside the president’s Texas ranch this summer made her the media-anointed queen of the anti-war movement.
Both lost a son in the conflict: Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Jason Williams died fighting in Iraq on the third day of the U.S. invasion in March 2003, more than a year before Army Spc. Casey Sheehan was killed.
Both Williams and Sheehan hail from the same hometown: Vacaville, Calif., just outside Sacramento. And like other Gold Star families – a term used when immediate family is killed in active conflict – they both preach a mantra of “supporting our troops.”
But the similarities end there. While Sheehan is in the District to lead an anti-war rally Saturday at the president’s other home, the White House, Williams has been on a bus tour across the country to meet the Sheehan contingent head-on and send a different message.
Part of that message will be sent at a series of events titled “Support Our Troops and Their Mission Weekend,” including a counter demonstration at the White House today and a memorial event on the National Mall Sunday.
“I hope to let people know there are other voices out there, not just the radical left,” Williams said. “A major portion of our country supports our troops and the war.”
Williams, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, hopes he can neutralize Sheehan’s call for withdrawing from Iraq by showing that someone from her town and a similar circumstance does not automatically oppose the war.
“She’s gotten off the rails as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
Meanwhile, 70 miles away in Bel Air, Md., Michael Watts is on the way to the nation’s capital to participate in the same events as Williams. His stepson, Lance Cpl. Patrick Ryan Adle, was killed in combat on June 29, 2004.
Watts’ views on Sheehan are more tempered than those of Williams.
“I understand what Cindy Sheehan is going through,” Watts said. “No one can take that from her.”
But Watts said he believes that Sheehan’s bullish characterization of President Bush and the war effort are unfair. He and his wife, Pamela Adle-Watts, met with the president and vice president during the inaugural ball in January.
“Bush is sympathetic to families,” he said. “He talks and speaks from the heart.”
Watts took particular issue with the media portrayal of Sheehan’s efforts: He says Sheehan was demanding the attention of the president — despite already having met with him, along with other families of the war’s casualties, in the summer of 2004.
“It snowballed into people believing the president wouldn’t talk to her and that she was floundering around,” Watts said. “She was trying to paint this false environment, trying to paint the president as a monster, and there was no truth to that.”
He added that if the U.S. Armed Forces were to withdraw from Iraq now, the deaths of servicemen and civilians in the conflict will have been in vain. He also said that terrorists would only be bolstered if troops pulled out before Iraq was stabilized. “We lost our son, but we’re looking at the big picture here about what happens if we don’t do something to stop this now.” – 30 – CNS-9-23-05