CRAWFORD, Texas – Cindy Sheehan's (search) eyes well with tears when she talks about her oldest son, Casey, an easygoing young man with a quiet wit.
Casey joined the Army in 2000, never imagining he would see combat. Five days after he arrived in Iraq last year, the 24-year-old was killed in Sadr City (search).
Sheehan knows nothing can bring back her son, but she wants to talk to President Bush. The Vacaville (search), Calif., mother has been camping out along a road near his ranch since Saturday, vowing to remain until his Texas vacation ends later this month.
"Before my son was killed, I used to think that one person could not make a difference," she said Wednesday under a tent where she has slept since arriving. "But one person that is surrounded and supported by millions of people can be heard."
Speaking with reporters at his ranch Thursday, Bush expressed sympathy for Sheehan.
"She feels strongly about her position. And she has every right in the world to say what she believes," Bush said.
"And I thought long and hard about her position," he said. "I've heard her position from others, which is: Get out of Iraq now. And it would be a mistake for the security of this country and the ability to lay the foundations for peace in the long run if we were to do so."
"One way to honor the fallen," he said, "is to lay the foundation for peace."
Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, and a deputy White House chief of staff talked to Sheehan on Saturday. She said the meeting, which she called "pointless," lasted 20 minutes. The White House said it lasted 45 minutes.
By Thursday, about 50 people had joined her cause, pitching tents in muddy, shallow ditches and hanging anti-war banners; two dozen others have sent flowers. Her name was among the most popular search topics Wednesday on Internet blogs.
The soft-spoken Sheehan, 48, is surprised and touched at the overwhelming response — most of which is positive, she says.
But not everyone supports her. Kristinn Taylor, co-leader of the Washington, D.C., chapter of FreeRepublic.com, said Sheehan's protest is misguided and is hurting troop morale.
"She has a political agenda that goes way beyond her son's death in combat," said Taylor, whose conservative group has held pro-troop rallies since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and counter-protests of anti-war demonstrations.
Sheehan, a Catholic youth minister for eight years, never wanted Casey to join the military. She said he did after being misled by his recruiter. Although he also opposed the war, he didn't try to back out.
"I begged him not to go," she said through tears. "I said, 'I'll take you to Canada' ... but he said, 'Mom, I have to go. It's my duty. My buddies are going.'"
Sheehan has spent the past several days in rainy weather talking to scores of reporters, hugging fellow protesters and taking brief breaks to eat sandwiches and fruit brought by supporters.
She and her husband are separated, affected by the stress of losing their son. But her three other children, ages 19 to 24, may join her in Crawford, she said.
Sheehan did meet with Bush in June 2004: She was among grieving military families who met with the president at Fort Lewis, Wash. She has said her feelings have shifted from shock to anger since then, in part because of various reports that have disputed some of the Bush administration's justifications for the war.
Many supporters decided to go to Crawford because of rumors that Sheehan would be arrested.
But no protesters will be arrested unless they trespass on private property or block the road, said Capt. Kenneth Vanek of the McLennan County Sheriff's Office.
Trucker Craig Delaney, 53, was in Georgia on Monday when he heard numerous radio shows discussing Sheehan — some criticizing her. He altered his route to California, heading for Texas, and got to Sheehan's site Wednesday morning.
"I felt compelled to come and tell her I support her," said Delaney, a self-described hippie from Sly Park, Calif. "The way they were bad-mouthing a mother whose son was killed in the war is un-American."
Nearly 40 Democratic members of Congress have asked Bush to talk to her. On Wednesday, a coalition of anti-war groups in Washington also called on Bush to speak with Sheehan, who they say has helped to unify the peace movement.
"Cindy Sheehan has become the Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement," said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, leader of the Hip Hop Caucus, an activist group. "She's tired, fed up and she's not going to take it anymore, and so now we stand with her."
Earlier this year Sheehan formed Gold Star Families for Peace and has spoken to groups across the nation and overseas.
Judith Young, national president of the The American Gold Star Mothers of America Inc., said she is concerned the public will mistake her 76-year-old Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization with Sheehan's group.
In Young's group, commonly known as Gold Star Moms, mothers whose children died in the line of duty volunteer in veterans' hospitals and programs. Members don't do advocacy work, Young said.