Thursday, October 27, 2005

''Many candles are lit at vigils for fallen soldiers''

"In a sense, Joseph Colgan's candle was lit by his wife's scream in their doorway when the soldiers arrived to tell them about their son. Colleen Isbell's ignited from a political awakening that unexpectedly gripped her at age 50. Cliff Wells says his candle has been burning for years, ever since his time in the Marine Corps just before the Reagan administration.

Among the hundreds of people who gathered Wednesday in Seattle for candlelight vigils mourning the 2,000 U.S. troops killed in the war in Iraq, all three said they know that war protest in liberal Seattle is nothing new and might not change any minds.

But that wasn't the point of the multiple vigils throughout the Seattle area, they said -- not entirely, anyway.

"It's a comfort to me," said Colgan, 64, whose son Benjamin died two years ago at age 30 as a second lieutenant stationed in Iraq. "Being here, praying together is very uplifting.

"He was an awful good kid."

Colgan, along with Isbell and Wells, were among the 200 to 300 gathered in Green Lake Park to hold candles along a stretch of the roadway surrounding the park.

In West Seattle, where a crowd of about 100 people crowded around the Statue of Liberty at Alki, Linda Stern said the vigil was a chance for a self-described "Gen X-er" to connect with other generations and with something larger.

"I wanted to gather for something, and it was important, in my mind, for people concerned about the war to do something," she said. "It helps me not feel so isolated and weak."

Wells, 48, a member of Veterans for Peace for three years now, wasn't politically active while growing up in Edmonds. Joining the Marine Corps in 1976 cured him of that. He said he stood on the sidewalk with his candle because he wanted people to witness that he was another "living example of an ex-Marine," albeit one they might not regularly see."Like a lot of people, the Reagan administration made me scared he was going to blow up the world."

He said he came to the gathering on the chilly evening because "it assures me that there is somebody else out there who cares."

Nationally, the vigils occurred Wednesday because it was the official day the U.S. government confirmed the country's 2,000th dead service member. Some gathered at the vigils asked why no similar official tally exists for Iraqi war dead.

The events were sponsored by, the American Friends Services Committee and Peace Action, among others.

Elizabeth Falzone, who lost a cousin in the war and organized the Green Lake vigil, said it's important for people to realize that the mourners, activists and protesters often do "respect and honor the military. We just want them used in the right way.

"We want to know the truth."

A search for just that was the political awakening for Isbell, 52. Born and raised in Seattle, Isbell has a husband, a 26-year-old daughter and little background in war protests or public vigils. Although she has never missed voting in an election, she also had never attended a rally of any sort until recently, after she got angry about the war.

"I've never been political," she said. "I'm here because I wanted to be part of something political."

She admitted that things were easier before she started paying so much attention to politics -- "I was ignorant," she said. "So I was happy." She said seeing so many people with so many candles "restores my faith in the system."

Her new political life surprised both husband and daughter. "My husband's all for it as long as I don't bring him along."-from the front page of the B Section, today's P-I, with photos. Seattle Times: not newsworthy. Thanks to Dina Johnson for sending along these photos from the vigil at the Statue of Libery at Alki.

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