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I Couldn't Refuse Cindy Sheehan

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I couldn 't say no to Cindy Sheehan when she e-mailed last week, asking me to represent Gold Star Families for Peace and to speak at an "Out of Iraq Now " event in Brooklyn. She is one of my heroes --this tireless, grieving mother whose effort galvanized the antiwar movement when she stood her ground near Bush 's Crawford Compound.

On the subway to Brooklyn, I thought, "Don 't go. Get off the train and flee. Pull a 'Runaway Bride ' number. " My palms were wet and I could feel my heart pounding.
I had received a list of the speakers --all accustomed to standing in front of an audience and doing something I 've avoided my entire life. The list included Jonathan Tasini, Hillary 's opposition, running as the Progressive Democrat for the US Senate, Debra Sweet, National Coordinator of World Can 't Wait, and Charles Lenchner of Progressive Democrats of America. There was my name among this group. Just seeing it terrified me.

But I 'd said yes to Cindy and I was determined to speak for my nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Chase Comley, killed in Iraq on August 6, 2005. I didn 't write a speech. Instead, I took the op-ed article I wrote the week we received the news of Chase 's death. I needed it as a safety-net. If no words came out of my mouth, I would look down at this piece and read.

Journalist and host of RadioNation on Air American Radio, Laura Flanders, was the MC. She and I chatted. Also, Jonathan Tasini talked with me, trying to build my confidence and even offered me his earlier spot on the program. I accepted, but Ms. Flanders didn 't receive that information and, then, called on an unexpected speaker, Congressman Major R. Owens who represents the 11th Congressional District of New York. That pushed me down the program another ten minutes and I could feel my stomach knot.

Finally, I was introduced. I walked to the podium and I did it.

When it was over, I called my mother and she said, "Write it down, every word you can remember, and send it to me. " This is what I wrote for her:

I want you to know that I am panic-stricken to be here today. I 'm not a public speaker. When Cindy Sheehan e-mailed and asked me to do this, I hit 'reply ' and wrote 'yes. ' Then I thought, 'What have you done? ' I 'm doing this for Chase and for all those who can no longer speak for themselves. If I collapse, just push me over to the side of the room.


If this had been later in the day, I 'd have had a glass of red wine before coming --something I do everyday at four in the afternoon when I call my mother. We each have a glass and chat. We 've always called this 'happy hour. ' We don 't call it that anymore.

There are so many things about this war that I find agonizing. The number of troop deaths, the Iraqi deaths, and also that some people in my family, despite our loss, still support George Bush. These are the people who received as gifts from me at Christmas George Bush toilet paper. Each sheet has a picture of Bush and a Bushism. The first is 'bring it on. ' Most who received it thought it was funny.

I 'm here to talk with you about my nephew, Chase Comley. He was bright, funny, and athletic. When he graduated from high school, he received the Spartan Award for best all 'round. And he was bad. He was bad in that way that women love and men try to emulate. He had so many friends.

I have my favorite picture of Chase --the one his father printed on the shirt I wore to the Cindy Sheehan Peace Rally in DC. I printed two of these to pass around today
. (Then I unbuttoned my sweater and showed the shirt I had worn underneath the sweater and left the sweater open as I continued).

Chase was 16 when his parents divorced and, probably, of the four siblings was the most affected. He was the youngest. After high school, he started college, but couldn 't discipline himself to study and was partying hard and womanizing. He began to be disgusted with himself and started talking about joining the military for discipline. We were appalled. The war had already begun and most of us had been opposed from the time Bush began to talk about the invasion. No weapons of mass destruction had been found, but Chase seemed determined. My father suggested the Coast Guard, the Navy, something safer than the Marines, but Chase was impressed by the Marine bravado, 'the few, the proud, ' and he said things like 'why settle for second best when you can be first. '

A couple of months later, he joined. He deployed for Iraq in March of 2005. He would have been 22 in November. He would have returned home in October. He was killed on August 6th.

On August 7th, five months ago today, my phone rang early morning. I answered and my sister said, 'Chase was killed in Iraq last night. '

I know I said, 'Oh, no, oh, no, ' over and over, at least 15 times.

My sister said that Mark, our brother had called her that morning. He was working about three hours from home when the Marines pulled up and his fiance saw them. She called him and told him she had a terrible migraine and needed him to come home. He entered the house and within a minute, the doorbell rang and he knew. He stayed up all night. He 'd had diarrhea for months and had seen a doctor who told him it was nerves. He 'd cried all night when Chase deployed. The week Chase died was the same week those soldiers from Ohio were killed and we all felt a heightened anxiety. My mother and I talked about it. Oddly enough, my niece, Chase 's sister had stopped to visit with my parents on Saturday and my mother said to her, 'Do you understand the danger Chase is in? ' We didn 't know that Chase was already dead.

My sister said to my brother when he called her, 'Oh, Mark, what can I do for you? '

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Missy Beattie lives in New York City. She's written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. An outspoken critic of the Bush Administration and the war in Iraq, she's a member of Gold Star Families for Peace. She completed a (more...)
 

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