Friday, June 29, 2007

As anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan goes quiet, her husband long silent, speaks up

Casey Sheehan's Father Finds Meaning Amid Grief
"Casey's death mattered".

A a mother's grief was what powered Cindy Sheehan into making a bold public stance against the Iraq war. A stand that included purchasing property just outside of President Bush's home, so that she and thousands of others could protest in the spotlight. She was criticized and harassed as being a publicity seeker. She wept openly when she spoke to large crowds about her son. I think possibly it was the Congress allowing the President to send in a surge of troops that finally broke her heart. The politicians were deaf to the call of so many people to end the war.

She and her husband Pat Sheehan were divorced during the grieving after the death of thier son Pat in Iraq.

Mr. Sheehan was very private in his grief. He felt that thee very private role of simply continuing to be Casey's father was enough - until recently, that is.

In a blip of publicity, his former wife and now leading figure in the opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Cindy Sheehan decided to retire from the limelight. Mrs. Sheehan announced in a heart breaking speech that she would stop her activism against the Iraq war. In doing so, she declared that Casey Sheehan "did indeed die for nothing."

The embarrassing and politically motivated smear war against Mrs. Sheehan and even her son by Vice President Dick Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove through their media attack team (including Fox news) continued to keep the issues focused on her as a person rather than her simple argument - The war must end and the troops should be brought home.

That statement by his wife that their son "did indeed die for nothing."ended Mr. Sheehan's silence.

He called Mary Sanchez after reading a column in which she disputed his ex-wife's assertion. "Yes," he told me, "Casey Sheehan's death mattered." they continued talking and e-mailing, and he made Mrs. Sanchez understand his opinion - that a soldier's life is what is significant, not merely his death, or the activism it might inspire.

Casey loved his faith - his intention for going to Iraq was to be a chaplain's assistant

Pat Sheehan is pained that people know so little about the religious devotion of his son. Casey Sheehan so loved his Catholic faith that he considered the priesthood, before realizing how much he wanted to be a father himself. As a child, he would pull a nightstand from against the wall, cover it with a blanket and "play" Mass, enlisting his sister to be a nun.

As a teen, he earned the rank of Eagle Scout. Later he would quip that the military was "kind of like Boy Scouts, but with guns." Casey Sheehan signed up before the Sept. 11 attacks. His service had nothing to do with revenge, his father says.

Rather, it was a way to practice his faith. Casey Sheehan wanted to be a chaplain's assistant. Faced with a wait to become one, he chose to be a wheel mechanic instead. As a soldier, he was always the first to greet a visiting priest. If no priest came to say Mass, he would lead a prayer.

Pat Sheehan has only recently learned the details of his son's death from Martha Raddatz, author of "The Long Road Home," a book about the Sadr City uprising.

April 4, 2004: A platoon of soldiers was ambushed by sniper fire, trapped in an alley when its Humvees broke down.

Casey Sheehan was among the men who volunteered for the rescue of the dead. Actually he pulled rank, taking the place of a lowlier private.

The convoy was fighting its way through more sniper fire when a high-velocity bullet pierced his Kevlar helmet, then ricocheted against his head. He was put on a helicopter, and doctors desperately tried to save his life. A rosary was in his pocket.

Casey Sheehan was one of eight soldiers who died that day.

"He was an adult, making his own decisions when he volunteered that day," Pat Sheehan told me. "And he would do it again. Nothing can tarnish that. What he did matters."

When a child dies

Grief experts say that when a parent dies, a part of a person's past is taken. When a person loses a sibling, a part of their present is lost. But when a child dies, the future is stolen. That would make moving forward in life feel a bit like stepping into a vacant space. Both the Sheehans have been trying to live in that place.

After his son's death, Mr. Sheehan wondered why he never became angry.

Mr. Sheehan still loves his ex-wife

Mr. Sheehan disagrees with some of his ex-wife Cindy Sheehan's tactics. Philosophically, they are close on their views about the war. "Cindy is not," he insists, "the ogre of a mother that critics portray her to be. "

In an e-mail, Pat Sheehan wrote: "I haven't quite found my voice yet as Casey's father, but make no mistake, I feel much of the same pain and sense of loss that his mother does. I have chosen to deal with it in my own way. For all of my children, Casey, Carly, Andy and Jane, I am attempting to move forward with a little grace and dignity. They deserve nothing less."

Major sections of the story come form Mary Sanchez who is a syndicated writer in Missouri.

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