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Encore Presentation: CNN Presents - Voices From The Homefront
Aired October 22, 2005 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: The faces of those sent to fight in Iraq. The voices of loved ones left behind.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want my son to be in harm's way for nothing. I want to know why, why is he there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no choice but to stay and fix it, no matter how hard it is.
ANNOUNCER: Mothers who give everything, yet stay the course.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How could I ever look at another mother and say, You send yours this time? I couldn't do that. It's our duty to just give back.
ANNOUNCER: Fathers who served their country, only to sacrifice again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is a hero. That was my only son. And, yes, he's my hero. He always will be.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm willing as a Marine to do whatever my country wants.
ANNOUNCER: Old soldiers and new politicians asking tough questions.
PAUL HACKETT (D), FORMER CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: My criticism goes to, Is this the best use of our military forces? I don't think it is.
ANNOUNCER: CNN's John King travels to the heart of America, digging beneath the polls and the politics to find a nation struggling with a surprisingly difficult war.
REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: All we're asking for the president is to say that I have a plan. there will come a day that we can declare victory. That's all we're asking.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a special edition of CNN PRESENTS, "The Iraq War, Voices from the Home Front."
JOHN KING, HOST: Welcome to CNN PRESENTS. I'm John King, reporting from Cincinnati, Ohio. You learn a lot when you leave Washington. There, the Iraq War debate has such clear lines, for or against, stay the course or bring the troops home.
Out here, it is rarely so black and white. There are fathers who doubted the president's case for war, yet after burying their only son, are adamant about finishing the job. Mothers with sons on a second, even a third, deployment, worried about choosing a cemetery, not whether the war has weakened the president or helped the Democrats.
As we share these "Voices from the Home Front," we begin here for a reason. It was here, at Cincinnati's Museum Center, the president delivered a nationally televised address making his case for war, saying with certainty, Saddam Hussein was a grave threat, with chemical and biological weapons and nuclear ambitions.
Three years later, we know there were no such weapons, and that rising doubts about the war are a major factor in the president's slumping political standing. We also know that this city and this state, both so critical to the president's reelection just a year ago, offer compelling examples of the shifting politics of war and of its sometimes incomprehensible pain.
KING (voice-over): Colors of the changing seasons, the passing of time. But in Brook Park, Ohio, it is not enough to hide the scars.
A summer of insurgency in Iraq brought the pain and horror of war home here. This, a makeshift memorial to 20 members of the local Marines Reserve battalion, six of them killed on an August Monday, 14 more less than 48 hours later.
The newly fallen are taking their place in their town's and country's honor rolls. Some of their friends waiting their turn in Iraq, uncertain when the mission will end, well aware support at home is wavering.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a matter of if you go, but it's a matter of when. Every Marine is going to go at some point or another.
KING: For now, though, Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Russ (ph) is among the Brook Park battalion members still stateside, helping his community cope and planning to eventually make most of this part of a permanent memorial.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are putting out things that are personal to them, in hoping that that'll be their remembrance of the Marines that are fallen.
KING: The Gold Star in the window tells you one of them lived here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a very good athlete. He was a good student, although he didn't study as much as he should have. KING: Lance Corporal Chris Dyer (ph) was 19.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Apparently he was pretty popular with the ladies. He chose to be a Marine, and then he wanted to be infantry. I tried to talk him into military police or communications, and he wanted to be infantry.
KING: Killed just a year after becoming eligible to vote in a war both he and his father questioned.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My son had told me -- I don't know if he had a chance to vote, because he was at school infantry at the time -- he said he would vote for Kerry.
I was very leery about this war when we started it. I kept hoping the Democrats would provide a stronger alternative. So I voted for Mr. Bush with some hesitation.
KING: It took a while, but John Dyer now finds comfort in the photographs assembled by one of his daughters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty amazing.
KING: He walks slowly and speaks quietly, but wants his voice heard.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I'm out there screaming and hollering at you, you're not listening to me. If you want to be heard, if you want your position to be considered, then on both sides, keep it civil, keep the personal part out of it, and discuss this like Americans.
KING: The president sent this condolence letter shortly after Chris's death. John Dyer sent the president an e-mail after one of many sleepless nights.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a couple of days after I had learned of my son's death. I wanted him to stay the course and not listen to demands to pull out. I was out here by myself. It was dark. And I was, I guess, having a breakdown, one of many, just in a complete, indescribable grief.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never envisioned that it would turn into such a big job, because I didn't envision we would have that many losses.
KING: Isolde Gezerik (ph) tries to be there for the breakdowns. Her son, Guy, is a staff sergeant in the Brook Park battalion. She spends hours a day working as a volunteer coordinator, funneling information to John Dyer and other parents and spouses.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The toughest day in my life was that Wednesday. And I still have my newspaper here, OK? The news reported there were 14 Marines from Lima Company killed. I was getting ready for work. My son could have been one of them. (INAUDIBLE) this whole dilemma of saying, OK, my son was not one of them, you almost feel guilty. KING: She e-mails a monthly newsletter, reminders of prayer meetings, anecdotes from the boys overseas.
But Isolde also knows her limits, creating a separate e-mail chain for the families of the fallen.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And if they can get together and share their grief, I think it helps them to get over it, and it lessens the pain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know everybody wants to help, but another parent in exactly the same situation, you don't need to really -- there are a lot of things you don't have to say, because you know what the other person is thinking.
KING: For these military spouses and parents, the war is more a fact of life than a political debating point.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really just don't talk about it. We talk about our Marines and what we hear from them. Hey, I got an e- mail...
KING: At work, though, Isolde senses a growing weariness.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm seeing more of a swing to, OK, let's, you know, bring our people home. I sense that.
KING (voice-over): And what do you think of it?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because -- well, the publicity, for one thing, that Lima Company alone has, this (INAUDIBLE) terrible large losses.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it shook us, you know, Americans on both sides of the question, and those like me, perhaps, somewhat in the middle.
KING (voice-over): But as he mourned and buried his son, John Dyer chose sides.
(on camera): Do you feel, though, a personal stake in how this turns out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
KING: In what way?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If some good could come out of establishing some level of a functioning country in Iraq, but if that could happen, then I might be able to reconcile myself to the -- seeing that my son's death had contributed something.
Conversely, I believe if we pull out, Middle East and us will experience a tremendous amount of additional turmoil, and I would think that his death was essentially for naught.
KING: Cincinnati is at Ohio's southern tip, Brook Park, some 240 miles to the north. But that small town's sudden pain reverberated here and across the state, just as a Marine who made it back safely from Iraq was trying his hand at politics in conservative Cincinnati.
When we return, his voice.
HACKETT: Look at the trend of this war. We've been there for two and a half years. That country has gotten worse.
KING: As goes Ohio, so goes the nation. It's an old saying in American politics, and for good reason. Ohio has voted with the winner in every presidential election since 1960. So it's a good place to look and listen when any national political debate is shifting.
Still, the experts viewed it as little more than a novelty when a Marine named Paul Hackett return from Iraq and ran this past summer in a special congressional election. Hackett, after all, is a Democrat, this district reliably Republican. Rising doubts about the war nationally, sure, but not here, the experts figured.
Suffice to say, they're looking and listening now.
KING (voice-over): The blue-star banner is another symbol of a nation at war, a sign a military mother lives here, in this case, an Ohio mom who has had enough.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want my son to be in harm's way for nothing. I mean, I want to know why. Why is he there?
KING: Jordan Rax (ph) is in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, and in the early days of his third deployment to Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When he told he was going to be deployed for a third time, you just feel like you've been hit. And it just takes the wind out of you, because he's gone there and he's come back twice. He wasn't hurt. And it's, like, you're so grateful that he came home.
And then when he has to go back a third time, it's, like, OK, how many times can we cheat death? How many times can we cheat him being wounded over there?
KING: Jordan's mom, Lynn Stamm (ph), believes the president deceived the nation about the Iraqi threat to begin with, and worries now her son is part of a mission that has failed and lacks a clear exit strategy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, it seems kind of ironic to me that you would have to keep people over there to validate the deaths that are already -- that have already occurred, and take chances that more people are going to die?
KING: The yellow ribbon out front says, "Support the Troops," but the sign in the car says, "Bring Them Home," Stamm among the military moms taking a more vocal role in the Iraq political debate, with her son's permission.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I asked my son, I said, Would you be ashamed of me for speaking out for, you know, what I believe? And he said, Mom, he goes, that's why I'm fighting. I'm fighting for freedom of speech. I'm fighting for our freedoms.
KING: Stamm lives in one of the modest middle-class neighborhoods that make Ohio a bellwether in American politics, a heartland state that often delivers a national message.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HACKETT AD)
ANNOUNCER: For one, a real choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A Marine just back from Ramadi and Falluja was this summer's unlikely messenger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HACKETT AD)
HACKETT: I respectfully ask for your vote on August 2.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HACKETT: Paul Hackett, running for Congress.
Paul Hackett, I'm running for Congress. Come on out and vote August 2, OK?
KING: Paul Hackett was the Democratic candidate in the August special election for Ohio's vacant Second Congressional District seat. His message, then and now, Iraq is a mess, getting worse.
HACKETT: What Bush should face and realize is, we're probably about as good as we're going to get. Look at the trend of this war. We've been there for two and a half years. That country has gotten worse.
KING: And perhaps most striking, a Marine just back from war, taking scathing personal aim at the commander in chief.
HACKETT: He's the president of the United States. He's not a king, he's not a sovereign, he's a servant to the people. And he owes honest answers to the American people who put him in that office.
So to that extent, he's not been forthright with the American people.
KING: A tough sell in such conservative territory. The district stretches from Cincinnati to the east. Mr. Bush carried it with 64 percent of the vote just last year. Republicans have held the congressional seat for nearly four decades.
Hackett lost, but by just 4,000 votes, an unmistakable Red State wakeup call to the president and his Republican Party.
HACKETT: I'm an American. I'm a Marine. And I'm willing to fight for my country. I'm willing to do what ever my country wants. My criticism goes to, Is this the best use of our military forces? I don't think it is.
KING: It was a question that hit home with people like Jay Purdy (ph), an ex-Marine, a self-described Christian conservative, and a two-time Bush voter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's appearing to me that it's kind of make it up as we go, and I don't know that that's a good plan for a military action.
KING: Cincinnati therapist Jodie Grondia (ph) opposed the war from the beginning, but wrestled with being too active politically because her son is an Army doctor in Iraq. And while no fan of the president's, she began the summer at odds with those saying, Bring the troops home now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have an obligation to continue and to stay the course, because we've made such a mess of it, and we have to clean up our mess, frankly.
KING: But Hackett's firsthand accounts gave her pause.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am no longer in conflict in myself and my mind about that. I have reached that conclusion. I think that we need to leave. I really do.
KING: She volunteered a few times for Hackett's campaign and believes, even though he lost, it was a stepping stone in a larger political shift.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are trying to make something good out of something that went terribly, terribly awry and has cost way too much in money and in lives and in blood.
And I lived through Vietnam, and why did we get out of Vietnam, finally? Well, it hurt too much. And finally, there was the widespread feeling of enough pain and enough consensus, Common sense says, We have to get out.
I think we're coming to a common-sense feeling in this country.
KING: Ahead, from the banks of the Ohio River, to the patriotic military communities of North Carolina, more "Voices from the Home Front," and more questions for the commander in chief.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: It was just over three years ago, October 11, 2002, that the Congress voted to give the president authority to wage war in Iraq. It was hardly a close call. The vote was 296 to 133 in the House, and even more lopsided, 77 to 23, in the Senate.
It is, to say the least, a dramatically different political environment now. An increasingly unpopular war has many in the president's Republican Party nervous, and some lawmakers who voted in favor of the war now call that vote a dreadful mistake and are demanding a clear exit strategy.
Follow one of them home, and you might be surprised to find yourself in eastern North Carolina, where the blood runs red, white, and blue, and among those questioning the president is a congressman who calls himself a proud Christian conservative.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Am I going this way?
KING (voice-over): Playtime is precious for any dad. All the more so with a second deployment to Iraq just a few days away.
Marine Captain David Weston (ph) knows he won't see Brady (ph) for seven months or so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where we going, buddy?
KING: And knows public support for the war has slipped quite a bit since he first shipped out two years ago.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think it troubles me. I think that I know what we're doing over there, and I know that everybody that we're deploying with knows what we're doing.
KING: Signs of the military tradition are everywhere here in eastern North Carolina. Camp Lejeune and other military installations are the lifeblood of the Third Congressional District. In addition to the bases, it is home to more than 60,000 military retirees.
Patriotism is in the blood. Support for the war and the commander in chief, about as expected as heading to church on Sunday.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody wants to be out of Iraq more than the president of the United States. Nobody, in my opinion, you know, bemoans lost lives more than he does.
KING: Retired general Hugh Oberholt (ph) says support for the mission and the president remains strong, but that even here, there are mounting questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's been a slight shift, certainly, to say, What's the government's plan? What's the Department of Defense's plan for getting us out of Iraq?
KING: The local congressman, the conservative Republican congressman, is asking the questions that directly challenge the commander in chief.
REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I want to do what's right for the families who have their loved ones overseas, and all we're saying is, there should be a strategy for the victory. And we're not hearing that.
KING: It was Congressman Walter Jones who, at the beginning of the Iraq War, coined the phrase "Freedom fries," his way of venting at the French for refusing to support military action in Iraq.
It is the same Congressman Jones now saying the president does not appear to have a clear strategy for victory, and joining prominent liberals to back a House resolution calling on the White House to submit a detailed exit strategy.
JONES: All we're asking from the president is to say that he -- I have a plan. There will come a day that we can declare victory. That's all we're asking.
KING: To some here, retired lieutenant colonel Gus Wilgus (ph) among them, it is tantamount to treason.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It appears to many of us down here that this is an attempt to embarrass the president, shame the administration, however you want to put it, into withdrawing from Iraq.
KING: Asking questions that annoy the White House and anger many constituents, Jones says, is a way of keeping faith with the fallen, approaching 2,000 now in Iraq, more than 230 in Afghanistan.
Jones is writing a letter to each of their families, an idea from a long drive home from a military funeral.
JONES: I think I realized then just how deep the sacrifice is. And I made a decision, I think the Lord put it in my heart, to be honest with you, that the least I could do was to write the families of those who've given their life in Afghanistan and Iraq, and let them know that this congressman that nobody will ever remember in history cared enough to write the letter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you take on all that grief and all that responsibility onto yourself, I think it was an emotional thing that overwhelmed him and has clouded his ability to logically think this thing out.
JONES: I mean, we're spending over $200 billion in Iraq. Man, it might be closer to $300 billion, to be honest with you. So I don't see where anyone can be critical of having a discussion and debate about policy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Talk to the sergeants. I've talked to them. Talk to the majors, the lieutenant colonels, colonels. They'll tell you then, and they'll tell you now, they need more forces on the ground.
KING: Retired Marine colonel Jim Van Riper (ph) saw combat duty in Vietnam and Desert Storm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Particularly among those who are familiar with war, there is a real, almost a loathing of the secretary of defense for the way he's prosecuted this war.
KING: Those with firsthand memories of Vietnam, and there are plenty of them around here, are especially sensitive to public opinion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very, very troubling, if you're the commander in chief, or if you're in the armed services, doing your duty, to feel like you're losing support back home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a part of our whole culture. We want an instant war finished. We don't want anybody to get killed. That's the nature of the beast.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Some Marines are returning home as this debate plays out. Others being deployed will replace them.
(On camera): You mentioned the football analogy, do you think most people would have anticipated we'd be in the fourth quarter by now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yeah.
KING: Where are we?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Half time.
KING: You sure we're that far?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I believe we're at half time.
KING (voice over): At Symore Johnson Air Force Base, up the road, F15s soon off to the Persian Gulf make training runs, but there is no end to such deployments in sight, it explains the mounting questions, even here, in a place so steep in military tradition.
Tough questions in those patriotic towns of eastern North Carolina, are just one example of the stunning change in the Iraq political debate. When we return, a grieving mother becomes the new face of the anti-war movement and challenges the president in both of the places he calls home.
KING: What was most noteworthy about the most recent anti-war march here on Washington's Ellipse, was not its numbers, but its leader, Cindy Sheehan of course became a household name in August, her challenge here on that September Sunday to prove her fame was no fluke and that she could use it to finally bring momentum to a long- frustrated movement.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING (voice over): Crawford, Texas, small-town conservative country. The adopted home of the president of the United States. A quiet place, most of the time.
This past August sleepy Crawford was transformed, ground zero in the Iraq war debate. The launching pad for Cindy Sheehan's emergence as the new face of the anti-war movement; talk to her and it seems almost an accident.
CINDY SHEEHAN, ANTI-WAR PROTESTOR: I regret not doing something about it before Casey was killed, because I thought one person couldn't make a difference. And you know, since he was killed I know that that is not true.
KING: She had opposed the war from the beginning; begged her son not to go.
SHEEHAN: You know, I told him I would do anything. You know, that I would like take him to Canada or break his legs, I mean, run him over with the car or something -- anything. And he said, Mom, I have to go. It's my duty. My buddies are going. He goes, I don't want to go, but I have to go.
KING: There in terms of --
SHEEHAN: He was only there five days before he was killed.
KING: Her only goal here, she insists was a meeting with the president, who lives up the road.
SHEEHAN: I've always said to him, you know, if you had as much courage in your whole body as my son had in his little finger, you would meet with me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You give us all so much strength.
KING: Other grieving mothers made journeys to Crawford. And at times, the emotions were overwhelming.
But much of what happened at Camp Casey was anything but spontaneous.
Paid political consultants came in to orchestrate events. Liberal bloggers and peace activist took up temporary residence in the president's back yard, getting attention that until Cindy Sheehan had been almost impossible to come by.
As she left Crawford, Cindy Sheehan was famous, but far from satisfied. No meeting with the president and no change in his stay- the-course strategy.
(On camera): In his view, that to bring the troops home now would be to dishonor them. That they would have died in vain. In his view, it would create more problems.
SHEEHAN: Well to me, it is like, so the reason we're staying in Iraq now is because Americans have been killed so we have to kill more Americans? Because other Americans have been killed, that's faulty logic. You know, it was a lie. He knows it was a lie. He knew it before we invaded. And the only way he can honor my son's memory is to bring the rest of his buddies home alive.
KING: Bus tours were part of an effort to sustain the summer momentum. As was the September March on Washington.
SHEEHAN: Most of our friends in Congress aren't doing their job.
SHEEHAN: George Bush certainly isn't doing his job.
SHEEHAN: But so, you now what? We have to do our jobs as Americans.
KING: Timing was not an ally this time. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina was the center of attention. Sheehan's arrest outside the White House drew notice but not on the scale of her Texas vigil.
And the signs of her political challenge were everywhere. While she bristles at the suggestion, marching in the willing embrace of liberal politicians and groups, makes it easier for critics to say that Cindy Sheehan is, without a doubt, the voice of a grieving mother, it is also the voice of an anti-Bush partisan.
SHEEHAN: As long as these people are for peace and ending the war, then we can work together. You know, I don't work for them, they don't work for me. I see it as we work together. And it is about life and death, it's not about being a Democrat or a Republican.
KING: Comparisons to Vietnam are heard often in Washington's political debate about the Iraq war. But there are critical differences. This perhaps the biggest, many of the nearly 60,000 and women memorialized here, were drafted into war. Today's military is all volunteer.
When we return, off to Idaho to meet a remarkable family with an unrivaled commitment to the war. And a father, scared first by Vietnam, now even more painfully so, by Iraq.
KING: In politics being dependable often means taken for granted. Take reliably Republican Idaho, for example. It gave George W. Bush, 69 percent of the vote in 2000, 69 percent, again, in 2004. Yet for four plus years, Air Force One may have passed overhead but never touched down.
Then this past summer, with doubts about the war rising, and Cindy Sheehan camped outside his ranch, the president needed help. And he found it here, in the state with the highest percentage of its National Guard troops deployed in Iraq, in the state the Pruitt family calls home.
KING (voice over): In the Pruitt family of Pocatello, Idaho, Tammy is the no-nonsense task master. Says a war-time president can learn a thing or two from a mother of six.
TAMMY PRUITT: He has to move on. OK, mistake were made, how do we fix it. Not, oh, let's go back and dwell on this one more time. You have to keep moving forward and pushing forward.
KING: Husband, Lee, works at this chemical factory and is the keeper of the Iraq war secrets.
LEE PRUITT: Oh, I've been shot at, mortared, and all of it.
KING: His own secrets from a year-long deployment with the Idaho National Guard.
L. PRUITT: I never told my wife everything that happened. I still have things that I haven't shared with her.
KING: And more, son Aaron, served in Iraq when Lee was there. And four more Pruitt brothers are deployed now. Eric is a platoon commander in Kirkuk. Greg a communications expert. Evan is a mechanic. And Jeff patrols for weapons and insurgents.
KING (on camera): You mentioned that there are some things you haven't told your wife. Do you and the boys have a private back channel communication?
L. PRUITT: Yes, we'll talk and sometimes I can -- you know, I get the feeling something is bothering him. I say, OK, what's going on? And so they'll write me on e-mail or they'll tell me on the phone. And they'll share more with me than the will with their mother.
KING: Lee Pruitt knows first-hand what awaits his sons when they come home. It is depressing, at times scary, and yet it makes his support for the mission for the mission even stronger.
L. PRUITT: My biggest thing is I was always looking of IEDs alongside the road.
KING (on camera): Here at home?
L. PRUITT: Yes, I'll still catch myself once in a while, driving down the road, I'll be looking for an IED. And also when people say, hey, we should pull our troops out, no we need to finish the job, because we don't want to have IEDs here, and have that fight here. We don't want to do it. A lot of people who be absolutely amazed at how much terror will put into you and be looking for an IED just going down the road.
KING (voice over): A father and five sons serving in the war, a mother supporting them every step of the way.
T. PRUITT: Take care when you go back out on patrol, OK?
KING: Even though when her boys signed up, she thought the National Guard meant weekend warriors, not combat zones.
T. PRUITT: We never thought that, OK, well, not only will they go to war, but all of them will go to war, and all of them will go at the same time. It just -- it never occurred to us.
KING: Supporting not only her husband and sons, but her president.
GEORG W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are few things in life more difficult than seeing a loved one go off to war. And here in Idaho, a mom named Tammy Pruitt --
(FEMALE SCREAMING IN DELIGHT)
BUSH: I think she's here.
BUSH: Knows that feeling six times over. America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruitts.
KING: On that August morning, as they prepared to meet the president, the Pruitts were well aware of the politics.
L. PRUITT: Going to see the president.
KING: Anti-war protestors were camped outside the president's Texas ranch, public support for the war, slipping.
L. PRUITT: It's a political avenue (ph), we know that. We're smart enough to understand that, you know, why it's happening.
KING: But no hesitation in lending the president a hand on the front lines in Iraq, or in the political debate here at home.
T. PRUITT: I have those days, as far as questioning the president. To me it really doesn't have any bearing on it that we haven't to this point found weapons of mass destruction. I'm just hearing the stories that my husband and sons have come back with, how grateful the average Iraqi citizens that they meet. How appreciative they are of their service. That does it for me.
There is evil out in the world and good people need to stand up and do the right thing. KING: An Internet-age war makes it easier. E-mails, instant messages, phone calls, easier most days.
L. PRUITT: You get on the e-mail system at night, on instant messenger and none of them are on there? None of them are logged on at all? And you haven't heard from them for a couple of days, you know that somebody has been hurt, or injured, or even killed, because they shut everything down.
T. PRUITT: I panic a little bit then, until somebody signs back on and, you know, Mom, everything is OK.
L. PRUITT: I don't look at the odds. I guess I don't -- you know, they're higher than most, most families. I just, I pray a lot, John. I mean, that's -- Heavenly Father is watching over our sons and all of us (INAUDIBLE). Tammy and I are on our knees, we're on our knees every night, praying for our sons.
T. PRUITT: When they come home they all still have enlistments to fill out, so within that time they could go again. And once again, we're not going to be shaken. We're going to stand fast and do the right thing.
KING (on camera): You don't ever think in the back of your mind, we're still signed up, we know you can still take us, but Pruitt family' paid its due, Sir?
T. PRUITT: Yes, yes. No, how can you do that? How could I ever look at another mother and say, you send yours this time? I couldn't do that. You know, its our duty. When you have as much as we have and as much freedoms in this country. It's our duty to give back.
KING: When Idaho made plans for this veteran's cemetery, the idea was to finally have a resting place for the heroes of past wars. But the stubborn insurgency that redefined the war in Iraq, and the politics of war, also forced a change here.
Ahead, one final voice from the home front. A father's horror at learning the war that almost killed him, isn't the war that hurts the most.
KING: Idaho's veteran cemetery opened just over a year ago. Not all that many grave sites for Tom Titus to tend to, on the days he volunteers here.
TOM TITUS, VETERAN'S CEMETERY VOLUNTEER: Something nice that I do, because my connection is I'm a veteran.
KING: More time then, to talk to the young man, on the left end of the front row. The first veteran laid to rest here.
TITUS: That was my only son. And, yeah, he's my hero. And he always will be. Because he showed me a lot.
There are things that I don't even thing are important anymore because they're just not, because he's not around.
KING: A year has passed. A little more, but not the pain, the disbelief, the memory of a knock at the door.
TITUS: All of a sudden it just seemed like my heart just went right up my throat. I was just like I had -- it seemed like somebody had their big hand around my throat and I couldn't breathe. I open the door, and they said, are you Thomas Titus? And I went, yes. And they asked me again. Then I heard the words that every parents hates to hear.
And they started telling me the circumstances, I looked at the chaplain, and I remember, you know, I said, would you please write that down? Because I couldn't understand it. And he wrote it down, and I kept thinking this cannot be true.
(TELEVISION NEWS: Protestors gather around outside the Idaho Center.)
KING: Tom Titus is angry, at anti-war demonstrations on the news.
TITUS: Some body made a remark, standing over there, and I'm (raspberry sound).
TELEVISION NEWS: He was in Crawford on vacation ....
KING: One group in Boise put his son's name on a cross.
TITUS: How dare they? Did they ask my permission? No. Do they really care about families? No. They're doing it for their own agenda, anyway, like a lot of other people who take advantage, you know, other than that, they wouldn't acknowledge me if they met me on the street.
KING: And the politicians and the Pentagon.
TITUS: They sent them in there with insufficient protection. The HUMVEES are not suited for that. Number one, because of no armor plating, and of course with the roadside bombs, the IEDs and that, they were just really good targets.
KING: Angry most of all at himself, at himself, for raising a son so proud of his father he insisted on following in his footsteps. Brandon Titus left a letter for his dad in the event of his death. A letter Tom Titus read at his son's funeral.
TITUS: I learned a lot from my dad. I wanted to be like him. I wanted to do something that would make him truly proud of me.
KING: Tom Titus was an Army Ranger in Vietnam. For nearly 30 years all of this sat in boxes, Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, memories, in some ways ghosts, of a war that almost cost him his life and left him bitter.
TITUS: I will not join the VFW, I will not join the American Legion, basically because of the fact of the way I was treated 20 to 30 years ago.
KING: He finally unpacked all of this so his son would know his father was proud of his Vietnam service despite the physical and emotional scares. One day, Brandon came home with the news he had enlisted.
TITUS: I tried to get through to him, this family has paid enough, this has got to stop.
KING (on camera): But he said after 9/11 he though it was important to serve his country?
TITUS: After 9/11, as he said it, before I can take advantage of the freedoms that have been given to me by members of my family, my father, so on and so forth, I have to earn'em.
KING: On that August morning, as the reality his son was dead, settled in, Tom Titus lashed out at the wall. Where the Crucifix is now, hung the certificates for his Vietnam medals.
TITUS: And all I remember is I started screaming, it's my fault. Is this my fault. You know, I was blaming everything on my stuff on that wall. And what happened to him is my fault. Because I -- in my stupidity it took me 28 years to pull everything out of a trunk and to put it on that wall, because I was -- in a way I wasn't embarrassed, but in a way I didn't want to see it. So, literally what I started doing is I started knocking frames down. I started knocking certificates.
KING: A year later, almost to the day, the president visited Idaho. And Titus was invited to a private meeting. He went in with low expectations.
TITUS: I don't want to hear any political crap. I just want to hear from another father, you know, let's hear if from a man, who you know, he's the commander in chief, my son is dead.
KING: But Mr. Bush held Brandon's photo as Tom told stories. And at the end of a long day, Titus said he was satisfied.
TITUS: He got a little part of me today. He knows where I'm coming from. Here I am, not only a veteran, who was wounded in combat, and who has worked hard to raise his son, and here's his only son, and I've lost him. And the world is like -- what do I do now? Give me some hope? I think he caught that. Because it affected him emotionally.
KING: He says he doesn't know whether Mr. Bush was right to go to war in Iraq, but he worries the generals are once again being hamstrung by the politicians.
TITUS: No, not Rumsfeld and the White House, those guys ought to stay out of it. Let the non-political people do it.
KING: History, his history, tells him what will happen if the troops come home before the job is done.
TITUS: What do we have to do? Do we have go to these cemeteries and look around and say, these people died in vain? That is bull crap. It is going to be the same as Vietnam. Oh, what the hell, we have 58,429 names on The Wall. What did they die for?
KING: Brandon Titus has his own wall now. A grieving father's tribute.
On the answering machine, three saved messages. It is hard to listen, harder not to.
BRANDON TITUS, ON ANSWERING MACHINE: Hey, Dad, this is Brandon. I got something I need to talk to you about. It is good news, so give me a call when you get a chance. All right. I love you. Bye.
KING: The back bedroom is just as Brandon left it, except for the boxes.
TITUS: It is his personal articles from Iraq, the are still in three boxes. I never unpacked them yet.
KING: Sent home from a battlefield. A different war, but once again, boxes that bring Tom Titus pain.
TITUS: Some of his room is still the same as when he left it. I haven't touched anything. The way certain things are arranged on his shelves in there, you know, they stayed the way they were and stuff is just stacked on his bed because I haven't bothered to unpack it.
KING: As we end, a few things from our travels stand out. Both grieving fathers, John Dyer (ph), in Ohio, Tom Titus here in Idaho, wished aloud the politicians would remember the fallen have names and faces, and be less partisan and more respectful when debating a war that cost them so much.
The mothers, regardless of what they thought of the war, all spoke of the same near-paralyzing fear when the e-mails from a far away son suddenly stop for a day, or three.
What also stands out from that speech the president gave in Cincinnati three years ago, is his confident talk of an America speaking with one voice. We know now from any poll and even more so from our travels, America has no one voice when it comes to war in Iraq.
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