Larry Syverson and Lou Plummer don't share George Bush's definition of patriotism, and that's why both men were standing in vigil last week to protest Bush's visit to Fort Bragg. Syverson and Plummer are both active in the national group Military Families Speak Out, which opposes the war in Iraq. As he did in two previous visits to Fayetteville from his Richmond, Va., home, Syverson held a sign with a picture of one of his sons dressed in a military uniform that stated: "Don't Send My Son Back To Iraq." Syverson has four sons; each one joined the service and three have served in combat, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
Syverson noted that among the families of federal elected officials--435 U.S. Representatives, 100 U.S. Senators, the president and vice president--military service is sparse. At one point, just one of Washington's 537 federal elected officials had a child serving in the military.
"I had three at that time, so I think it is ludicrous that they would say I'm not patriotic because I'm speaking out against the war," Syverson says. "As far as who's patriotic and who's not, I think because every one of my sons joined the military, I should say, 'Who's patriotic? I am.' I'm doing my patriotic duty in speaking out against the war."
Plummer and his wife, Tina, live in Fayetteville, where they have been leaders in the community's growing anti-war movement, which Lou says is the strongest in the nation among military communities.
Last February, their oldest son, Drew Plummer, was arrested for desertion. The Navy later gave Drew a less-than-honorable discharge.
Like many young people who join the military, Drew Plummer, at age 17, didn't know what he was getting into when he signed up in the summer of 2001, just months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Lou Plummer says half of today's soldiers are 22 and younger.
"When we say our fighting men and women, we're talking about people who, a large percentage of them, aren't old enough to buy an alcoholic beverage," Plummer says.
Living in Fayetteville, Plummer sees up-close the faces of the young soldiers getting ready to go to war.
"These are people who a year ago were worried about taking algebra tests or football practice," he said. "And now they're worried about life insurance and should they pull the trigger on a car that's approaching them at a checkpoint. And I think that is wrong in every sense of the word."
Plummer, also an Army veteran, said he only became active in the anti-war movement in 2001, when he began to realize that the war in Iraq was based on lies.
"I hate to sound knee-jerk leftist, but this war is really about corporate profits," he says. "It's about a select class of people in the United States profiting from the life's blood of a bunch of working-class kids. The right wing believes that supporting the troops means putting a magnet on their SUV. My sense of supporting the troops is working as hard as I can to give them the opportunity to die of old age, not in some Humvee on a street in Baghdad."
Tina Plummer says living in Fayetteville keeps her on her toes because she has to fight often to defend her anti-war views.
"When you live in Fayetteville, you're getting both sides," she says. "When you live in a place like Chapel Hill, if all your friends are lefties, you're not getting the other side."
Tina admits the anti-war movement is a hard sell among the locals. Either they're blinded by partisan politics or they have "unswerving loyalty to anything that has to do with the military," she says.
Still, Lou Plummer says support for the war is declining among everyone in Fayetteville. A recent poll showed that about half of Fayetteville's residents don't believe the war in Iraq is worthwhile.
"I certainly think that the government has noticed the anti-war movement in this town, and they have a real fear of this grassroots wildfire expanding," he says.
Syverson agrees. When the war started it had about 85 percent popular support, he said. Now that support is down to 40 percent.
"The main reason the president is here is because his poll numbers are down, because people are coming in our direction," Syverson said. "So he is on the defense. So we need to keep our effort going and be out in front of the people. We're trying to tell the American people what's really happening in Iraq."