WASHINGTON – Joseph Williams has much in common with Cindy Sheehan (search), the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq whose protests outside the president's Texas ranch this summer made her the media-appointed queen of the anti-war movement.
Both lost a son in the conflict: Lance Cpl. Michael Jason Williams died fighting in Iraq on the third day of the U.S. invasion in March 2003, more than a year before Army Spc. Casey Sheehan was killed.
Both Williams and Sheehan hail from the same hometown: Vacaville, Calif., just outside Sacramento. And like other Gold Star (search) families — a term used when immediate family is killed in active conflict — they both preach a mantra of "supporting our troops."
But the similarities end there. While Sheehan is in Washington to lead an anti-war rally (search) Saturday at the president's other home, the White House, Williams has been on a bus tour across the country to meet the Sheehan contingent head-on and send a different message.
Part of that message will be sent at a series of events titled "Support Our Troops and Their Mission Weekend," including a counter-demonstration at the White House Saturday and a memorial event on the National Mall Sunday.
"I hope to let people know there are other voices out there, not just the radical left," Williams said. "A major portion of our country supports our troops and the war."
Sheehan drew thousands of protesters to her 26-day vigil outside President Bush's Texas ranch last month.
Anti-war groups are using a $1 million ad campaign featuring Sheehan and this weekend's demonstration — which they say will attract 100,000 people — to try to re-energize their movement and pressure the Bush administration to bring troops home from Iraq.
"We want to show Congress, the president and the administration that this peace movement is thriving," Sheehan said this week. "We mean business and we're not going to go away until our troops come home."
Williams, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War (search), hopes he can neutralize Sheehan's call for withdrawing from Iraq by showing that someone from her town and a similar circumstance does not automatically oppose the war.
"She's gotten off the rails as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Meanwhile in Bel Air, Md., Michael Watts is on the way to the nation's capital 70 miles away to participate in the same events as Williams. His stepson, Lance Cpl. Patrick Ryan Adle, was killed in combat on June 29, 2004.
Watts' views on Sheehan are more tempered than those of Williams.
"I understand what Cindy Sheehan is going through," Watts said. "No one can take that from her."
But Watts said he believes that Sheehan's bullish characterization of Bush and the war effort are unfair. He and his wife, Pamela Adle-Watts, met with the president and vice president during the inaugural ball in January.
"Bush is sympathetic to families," he said. "He talks and speaks from the heart."
Watts took particular issue with the media portrayal of Sheehan's efforts: he says Sheehan was demanding the attention of the president — despite already having met with him, along with other families of the war's casualties, in the summer of 2004.
"It snowballed into people believing the president wouldn't talk to her and that she was floundering around," Watts said. "She was trying to paint this false environment, trying to paint the president as a monster, and there was no truth to that."
He added that if the U.S. Armed Forces were to withdraw from Iraq now, the deaths of servicemen and civilians in the conflict will have been in vain. He also said that terrorists would only be bolstered if troops pulled out before Iraq was stabilized.
"We lost our son, but we're looking at the big picture here about what happens if we don't do something to stop this now."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.