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Monday, August 15, 2005

Camp Casey and Casey Kelley

This is Part Two of a series.  Part One is They Came to Crawford.

Camp Casey

“My God. Look at all the crosses,” my wife, Peg, whispered as we came over a rise and caught our first glimpse of “Camp Casey” through the windshield a couple of hundred yards ahead. Leaving Crawford, we’d turned right at the church on to Prairie Chapel Road and traveled through a five-mile-long picture post card over gently rolling green pastureland. If this was, as locals have claimed, God’s country, we had just entered the narthex of His church. Having turned off the AC and lowered the windows, we caught strains of a familiar hymn sung by the local bird and cicada choir. And now on our left, a site common in so many rural churchyards, were the memorials to the deceased members of this congregation.

Two orderly rows of simple white crosses, then expanding to three and finally to four, guided us for the final 100 yards of our journey. As we slowed to a reverent crawl, we noted that the markers were identical except for the names hand-written in black magic marker across each horizontal bar. Straight ahead, tied to tree branches, was an old sheet on which was scrawled, in foot-tall letters, “Jesus Wept.”

Camp Casey isn’t really a camp in the strictest sense. Located at a sun-burnt junction of two county roads in the middle of nowhere, it’s more a haphazard collection of leaflet-covered tables, folding lawn chairs, hand-painted signs and multi-colored plastic coolers. The junction between Prairie Chapel Road and an unnamed service road forms a small triangle. Turning left at the triangle leads to long rows of cars parked on both sides so as not to block the way for the locals. Following Prairie Chapel Road to the right as it veers away from the triangle leads to smaller rows of state and local police cars. The lines of demarcation seemed to be strictly drawn.

We turned left and found an open spot on the right about 50 yards up the hill from the triangle. Our car tilted to the right at the edge of the drainage ditch alongside the road. My wife had read a notice posted at the Peace House warning of the fire ants who lurked in the ditches along the roads of mid-Texas. I remembered that Billy Kelly had told me that during their initial walk to Bush’s compound they were forced to walk in the ditch and off the road to avoid interrupting the flow of traffic. Now, after experiencing the ditches first hand and noting the lack of traffic, I understood why this was a memorable detail for him.

I gathered my tools for the day: laptop, pad, recorder and camera, while my wife prepared our small dog, Ben, for a long afternoon in the burning Texas sun. Previously, we had wondered how he would fit in at a country protest, but were immediately comforted when just down the road near the triangle, we saw another, much larger dog lying in the shade of a small tree. Sitting next to the dog on a blanket was a petite woman dressed in a pink T-shirt with “Stop the War” printed on the front. She also wore a large straw hat.

Casey Kelley

“What’s the dog’s name?” I asked, hoping for friendly company for Ben.

“Lucky,” the woman in pink replied with a smile.

Just then, the quiet of the late morning was interrupted by the rapid-fire chopping of an approaching helicopter overhead. “Vietnam,” my mind said out of a long entrenched habit. I was never there, but too many of my friends and contemporaries were. Again, I thought of Billy and the other vets who were here at Camp Casey. Another parallel between the then and the now?

“Bush is going to drive by this morning on his way to a fundraiser down the road. Must be police or the Secret Service,” Lucky’s owner said, squinting as she looked up through the branches of the tree. “He’s supposed to come by in about a half hour.”

I asked if Ben could share Lucky’s shade. Pink-Shirted Woman said, “Yes,” and I sat down to introduce Ben to Lucky and myself to his owner.

Her name was Casey Kelley. “Kelley with an ‘e’,” she said, looking over my shoulder as I scribbled some notes. I asked and she agreed to tell me about how she and her dog came to be sitting by the side of a lonely country road in Crawford, Texas, on a lazy August morning.

“I’m a semi-retired real estate broker and I live in Fairplay, Colo.. Do you know it? No? Not many people do. It’s about 23 miles south of Breckenridge in the Rockies. It’s beautiful,” she said. “Much different than the beauty here. Anyway, last Monday morning I was reading online - I don’t remember where, it might have been Daily Kos – about Cindy and how she was being treated…being made to walk in a ditch. I got so angry and I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to go stand next to her.’ So, I got someone to look after my house and animals and loaded Lucky into my camper.” She pointed to the open-sided camper directly across the road, 10 feet from where we were sitting. “It’s become Cindy’s office.”

Indeed, conversation was coming from three women who were sitting in the camper. They wore earpieces and had communication devices circling their waists. They were deciding where Sheehan should stand when the president would drive by.

“I left on Monday afternoon and arrived here Wednesday,” Kelley said.. “Sorry. I haven’t had a bath and I’m pretty….” She trailed off and waved her hand in front of her face. “I’m really looking forward to a bath.”

I asked her what stuck in her mind about her adventure. “Meeting Cindy,” she said without hesitation. “Her grace. Her courage. How she’s remained so calm with all that’s been happening. It’s also been extraordinary to see the other families who have arrived here, how they have had the insight to see through their terrible loss. I mean, what a tragedy! And they still see through all that, to know the truth, the truth about this ridiculous war.

“Look,” Kelley continued,“I have three kids and my oldest boy was approaching fighting age during the Vietnam War. There was no way I was going to let that happen. I mean, seeing the photos of these family’s sons who died makes me hurt in my chest.” There was a strong determination in her voice, but the edges seemed softened by compassion.

“ I know this is going to sound harsh,” she said, “but I think those boys did die in vain. I mean, they knew the risks. They volunteered. I don’t think it’s derogatory to say that they had real courage and honor for their country, but they died for a mistake, and that makes this all so much harder.

“I’m just a real estate broker,” she said, “and I knew there were no WMD, and if I knew that, then why didn’t the administration know it? It’s nice to get rid of Saddam, but what no one asks is, ‘What was the cost?’”

Was she new to protesting?

“This is the first time I’ve ever been moved to do anything like this. Drive over a thousand miles to be here. And it’s not really an event. I’m just being here to show my support.”

I asked her how long she planned to stay and she said, “As long as I can. I’ve got to make some calls to see about my house and stuff. And besides, how can I take away their office?”

Just then someone from down at the triangle shouted, “Here he comes!” – the president. I grabbed my camera and left Ben to Lucky’s care as Casey, Peg and I jogged down the road to see what would happen next.

Part Three – The President and The Minister

Special Contributions from the following ePMedia folk and many thanks to:
SusanG, Peg Keeler (bedarra), Cho, Standingup

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