FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. – Nothing could be finer than to be in North Carolina March 20 when the crab apples were in bloom and more than 800 people marched through town chanting, “Bring the troops home, now!”

They came here by bus from towns throughout North and South Carolina to demand that George W. Bush stop the killing in Iraq. Fort Bragg, home of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, and Pope Air Force Base are both located just outside Fayetteville.

Many military families, some grieving the death of their sons and daughters, joined war veterans in the half-mile march from the train station to Rowan Park. It was the largest peace demonstration here since the Vietnam War. Local and state police were out in force, searching every backpack and lining the route of the march.

Jacqueline Cephas-Abrams, a disabled Air Force veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, said, “I am totally disabled and live in constant pain. I went through hell getting the Veterans Administration to recognize my illness. They give us medals and wrap us in the flag while closing down the VA clinics and hospitals and denying us benefits.”

Peter Walz was on duty at the “Pledge to Beat Bush” table in Rowan Park. “People can vote against Bush,” he said. “They can help register people to vote and they can contribute to put up billboards across North Carolina that tell the truth about Bush. This administration has been such a horrible failure. We have to change that in November.”

Elaine Johnson told the rally her 22-year-old son Darius T. Jennings died along with 15 other GIs when their Chinook helicopter was shot down over Fuluja, Iraq, last Nov. 2. George W. Bush came to Columbia, S.C., to speak at a Republican fundraiser while her son was awaiting burial there, she said. A few days later she was invited to Bush’s meeting with the families of 26 war dead at Fort Carson, Colo.

“I asked him why he didn’t call me or visit that funeral home while he was in Columbia,” she said. “He told me he didn’t know my son was dead. I am still questioning the president. He needs to find a way to bring the troops home. … How many more wars will we have to fight? He’s sending troops to Haiti. For what? We need money for education and health care, not more wars.” The crowd cheered.

Wade Fulmer of Columbia, who served in both the 82nd and 101st Airborne in Vietnam, said, “We will not be deceived and misled by thieves who send our soldiers to die in an unnecessary war. They cut millions from veterans’ medical care while funding billions for Halliburton.” Addressing Bush he shouted, “Mr. AWOL appointee, bring them home now!”

Mark Dimonstein, a union postal worker and the leader of North Carolina Labor Against the War, said war profiteers “are laughing all the way to the bank. They are assaulting workers’ rights. … It is working-class youth who are sent to die for the profits of Halliburton.”

Jim Lakewind, a Vietnam War veteran from Cincinnati, jingled his dog tags into the microphone and addressed 50 or so counterdemonstrators separated from the peace rally by a yellow police tape. Lakewind said he was the sole survivor when his squad was ambushed in the highlands of Vietnam Sept. 24, 1968. “I’m a working-class guy who went to Vietnam,” he said. “All my buddies died that day. I wish that yellow tape could come down and you could join us and we could talk. … The dogs of war are leading us in a direction we shouldn’t go.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com.