As the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq has risen above 1,300, mothers of the dead have built a grim community of their own, separated by geography but bound together by death.
Some have met in pews at funerals." My closest friends now are three other mothers I have met who lost their sons," said Cindy Sheehan of Vacaville, Calif., whose son, Spc. Casey Sheehan, died in an ambush April 4. "Us moms are really the only ones who know what we're going through."
In this network linked by sorrow and empathy, however, one issue divides them: the wisdom of the war.
Relatives who believe the war in Iraq was necessary tend to gravitate to one another, talking little of politics and more of pride, sacrifice and loneliness. And those like Cindy Sheehan, who questioned the need to invade Iraq, find one another too, wrestling with their doubts about the war and the meaning of their losses.
People on each side say they respect those on the other. Still, flashes of tension have crept up at small gatherings, even after condolence sessions with President Bush.
This fall, in a conference call of mothers who shared their experiences for a book (A Mother's Tears: Mothers Remember Their Sons Lost in Iraq, by Elliot Michael Gold) several hung up in anger after disagreeing about whether the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had made the war in Iraq necessary.
Nancy Walker of Lancaster, Calif., said she found herself awkwardly starting to describe why she believed the war was wrong at her first meeting with a couple in Iowa, whose Marine son had died the same day as her own. Clearly, she said, the couple did not agree.
"I do believe firmly in this war. Those terrorists are going to bring the war to us," said Nelson Carman, the father from Jefferson, Iowa, who met with Walker. "To bring politics into our son's sacrifice is just something that is not conceivable to me."
Carman said he felt a special sorrow for those who felt as Walker did.
"If you have another set of issues, especially political, that you're dealing with, that's just another hurdle you have to get over," he said.