PHILADELPHIA – Ten elderly members of a group of anti-war activists who call themselves the Granny Peace Brigade were arrested Wednesday after refusing to leave a military recruiting center, which shut down several hours early because of the demonstration.
The protesters remained inside the building after it closed at 1:30 p.m., and were arrested about three hours later. Police did not handcuff the women, who waved to cheering demonstrators as they were led into two police vans and one unmarked car.
Among those arrested was Lillian Willoughby, of Deptford, N.J., who earlier gave her age as 91 1/2. Willoughby, who uses a wheelchair, spent nearly a week in federal prison in 2004 for blocking the entrance to the federal courthouse during a war protest.
It was not immediately clear if the women had attorneys, or what specific charges were being lodged against them.
Several dozen protesters, some using wheelchairs, canes or walkers and many sporting festive flower-festooned hats, held signs and chanted outside the downtown Armed Forces Recruiting Center. Some drivers waved and honked their horns in support, and the grandmothers replied by cheering and clapping.
A few of the women went inside the recruiting facility to speak with military recruiters and to try to dissuade those who arrived to enlist.
"We're saying, 'I've lived my life. Let me go to Iraq instead of our grandchildren, so they have a chance to live their lives,"' said Jean Haskell, 74, a grandmother of five from Philadelphia.
The grandmothers were joined in front of the recruiting center by members of other anti-war organizations, whose members chanted, "We insist. Let the grannies enlist."
Christine Watson, 17, a high school senior from North Philadelphia, said she came to the recruiting center because she thought a military career would help her "keep focused" and provide money for college. After a discussion with Gloria Hoffman, a 67-year-old Granny for Peace from Philadelphia, she said she would give her decision more thought.
"My grandmother would have wanted me to get an education," Watson said.
"You can't go to college if you go to Iraq and don't come back," Hoffman replied. "Your grandmother would have wanted you to be around for a long time."
"Yes she would," Watson replied. "Yes she would."
Several of the elderly activists made it into the office of Staff Sgt. Tondrel R. Birgans, a Marine Corps recruiter, who told them that they all exceeded the maximum enlistment age of 29.
He told the activists that his eight years in the military have bettered his life.
"I've learned a lot about people, I've seen a lot of the world," he said. "I just love to serve my country, to do my job."
"Do you enjoy enlisting people to go out and be taught how to kill other people?" Willoughby asked, hours before her arrest.
"It's not to kill, it's to serve and protect the country," Birgans replied.
Joining the Philadelphia group were members of the New York chapter of the Granny Peace Brigade, which is on a trek that will make several stops before arriving on July 4 in Washington, D.C., said Joan Wile, 74, the founder of the New York group. She was acquitted with 17 others in April of disorderly conduct for a 2005 anti-war rally outside a New York military recruiting center.
"I'm 84 years old, and I've never been so frightened in all my life, with everything that's going on in this country," said Gert Copperman, a retired physician who lives in downtown Philadelphia. "I don't practice medicine anymore, but what we're doing here today is another way of helping people."