BANGOR – A father and son walked side by side Saturday among the hundreds of protesters marching and chanting through the streets of downtown Bangor in a peaceful demonstration against the Iraq war.
They both appeared emotional, walking at times with arms over each other’s shoulders, other times wiping a tear away as they helped push a trailer bed lined with white crosses to signify the lives lost in the war.
Richard Clement of Pittston is a member of Veterans for Peace. His son Brian Clement is affiliated with Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Brian Clement is in the inactive Reserves and is a student at the University of Maine. He is studying history in hopes of becoming a teacher.
Richard Clement’s wife, Rita, marched a few feet behind with Military Families Speak Out, the group to which she belongs.
“This war should have never been started in the first place, and we’ve got to do everything in our power to stop our politicians,” said Rita Clement.Brian Clement, 24, was stationed in Iraq, just north of Baghdad, from 2004 to 2005 as an Army specialist.
When he signed up for the military, he was confident that he was doing the right thing and would be able to make a difference in the lives of the Iraqi people.
“The more I spent time there, I realized we were doing more damage, more harm than good,” Brian Clement said.
He joined Iraq Veterans Against the War when he returned home, but said he supports the soldiers still serving and the veterans who have returned.
“I support them wholeheartedly. They’re my brothers,” he said. “I was over there with a lot of them – and a lot of them are there again. I just want to see them come home.”
The group’s Web site states that Iraq Veterans Against the War was founded in July 2004 by Iraq war veterans at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace in Boston. The group’s purpose is to give a voice to active-duty service people and veterans who are against this war, but who are under various pressures to remain silent.
“He says that he’s proud of his mother and I for what we do, and I’m proud of him,” Richard Clement said of his son. “He’s the man.”
The Clements were among an estimated 1,500 people from around the state who attended Saturday’s peace rally at the Bangor Waterfront. The age of those in the crowd ranged from infants in strollers to teenagers, the middle-aged and elderly, including an 82-year-old World War II veteran.
“It’s great to have so many young people here today,” said Ilze Petersons of the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine.
The booming sound of drums echoed through the streets. Signs urging President Bush to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and stop the war bobbed up and down as the protesters marched, chanting anti-war sentiments such as “Leave Iraq, bring them back” and “This is what support the troops looks like.”
It was the largest rally in Maine since 2002, when about 3,000 people traveled to Augusta to protest the upcoming war.
Bangor police were on hand to monitor the event and direct traffic, but no incidents were reported.
“[The protesters] let the public know it’s not just a small fraction of weird hippies,” said Karen Foley of Bangor. She’s a member of Military Families Speak Out. Her son is in the Air Force stationed in Italy, awaiting orders to deploy to Iraq.
To her, the importance of Saturday’s rally was “the truth.”
“The young men and women who joined the military after September 11 did so with the best of intentions,” Foley said. “I feel they were lied to.”
The war isn’t about terrorists and democracy; it’s about money and power, she said.
“As a mother, I feel like this is my way to protect him,” she said. “He doesn’t always agree with me, but he supports me.”
Doug Rawlings, a founder of Veterans for Peace, was Saturday’s main speaker.
For him, the event was a chance to send a message, but also to reinforce anti-war efforts.
A Vietnam War veteran, Rawlings said he’s serving his country in a different way now.
“I think I’m serving my country much more effectively now than I did in Vietnam,” he said.
Veterans for Peace led the march from the waterfront to the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building and back, a total distance of about a mile and a half. At their side was Mary Horrigan. Hanging around her neck was a poster-size sign.
“This was my baby,” she said, pointing to a picture of her son, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Robert Horrigan of Belfast, who died in Iraq at age 40 on June 16, 2005.
“And these are all my babies,” Horrigan said, referring to the poster listing the Maine soldiers who have died in the war.
“This being here gives me a reason to continue living,” she said. “I have to do something.”
She, too, echoed the sentiment that Saturday’s event was for everyone to send a message to Bush that the U.S. must bring its troops home.
“We’re not a fringe crazy group,” she said. “It’s everybody.”