It was after an hour of talk with congressional aides about chemical weapons, tanks and bodies arriving at Dover Air Force Base that Diane Tolson brought the faces of war home to Columbia yesterday.
Mrs. Tolson, whose son and daughter-in-law are U.S. Army captains serving in the Persian Gulf, stood up to show the Howard County Military Families Support Network and guests photographs of 35 area soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines now in the gulf.
As she displayed an 8-by-10 photo of each and read their names, it was so quiet you could hear only the ticking of a wall clock.
"That's my boy," said Eleanor Mayer, when Mrs. Tolson held up a picture of her son, John Eric Mayer, an Army lieutenant in the gulf.
"Hey, that's my son," said John Rynn, whose son, John Rynn Jr., is with a U.S. Marines reconnaissance unit serving in the Kuwaiti theater of operations.
Mr. Rynn, Howard County coordinator for the network, said the meeting was intended for parents of military personnel to express their concerns to congressional representatives about how the war is affecting them and their children.
"It seems as if members of Congress went into hibernation instead of speaking out on behalf of the families of the troops once the conflict started," said Mr. Rynn. "I love my son and I don't think Congress is doing him a service by keeping quiet."
The meeting attracted about 25 parents as well as aides from the offices of U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, both Maryland Democrats, and Representatives Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md.-3rd, and Beverly B. Byron, D-Md.-6th. The aides answered a few questions but spent most of the two hours taking notes.
These parents were not flag-waving patriots eager to sacrifice all for love of country, but questioned -- in emotional terms -- U.S. policies in the Persian Gulf and whether the government cared about their warrior children.
Mrs. Mayer asked why a boy in her son's unit lay in a hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, for three weeks with a shrapnel wound in his leg before his family was notified of the wound. "I'm just wondering what kind of runaround we're going to getting when the casualties and deaths start coming in," she said.
Other parents expressed regret that the Pentagon has banned the practice of holding memorial services with military honors at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, whenever bodies are shipped back to the states from the war zone.
"It has nothing to do with logistics. It's politically unseemly to do it and so it will not be done," said Peter Miller, a history teacher from Bowie.
They also questioned whether an equal number of sons and daughters from middle-class homes were fighting alongside children from poorer families.
"Let's not send these kids over there on the basis of class. That's criminal," Mr. Miller said.
The group also asked Congress to see whether military restrictions on press coverage were warranted and whether the White House has long-range objectives in Kuwait and Iraq that it has kept secret.
"When the war is over, Congress should question this president about what kinds of deals were made with the countries involved," said John Carberry, a Columbia resident whose son is a Marine.
The parents said because of the war they have been glued to their television sets, and most said they read two or three newspapers a day. Mrs. Mayer said she has been addicted to the news since her son, who graduated from West Point last June, was sent to the gulf last summer.
"I live, eat, breathe and sleep this war," said Mrs. Mayer, of Columbia.
Mrs. Tolson said the photographs she brought will be put on display in the near future at the Columbia Mall as part of an exhibit honoring the troops. She said her son, Todd Tolson, a 1986 West Point graduate, and his wife, Bernadette, shipped out together last summer.