Crash of Symbols A grieving family gets pulled into an anti-war demonstration
In a clash that illustrates the power of symbols over good intentions, a candlelight vigil last week honoring 1,000 troops killed in Iraq triggered a screaming confrontation between the family of a fallen soldier and members of the Dallas Peace Center.
"We got tricked," says Kathy Herriage, a family friend of the soldier. The ugly debacle left Channel 5, the publicist who promoted the vigil and leaders of the Peace Center blaming each other.
On September 7, members of his family received the news that Specialist Chad H. Drake, 23, of Garland had been killed in Iraq. The family began getting calls from TV stations; some reporters informed them that Drake was the 1,000th soldier to die in the war.
Anti-war groups had been anticipating the "1,000 dead" milestone. MoveOn.org began coordinating vigils around the country. Candance Robison, member of an anti-war group called Military Families Speak Out, sent messages to media on behalf of the Dallas Peace Center promoting a "Service of Mourning & Remembrance for 1,000 U.S. military war dead in Iraq" on September 8.
Though the Department of Defense did not describe Drake as the 1,000th casualty, somehow Drake got singled out. Ginger Drake, Chad's mother, and other members of the family declined to do interviews but gave Steve Alberts of KXAS-Channel 5 photos and information about Drake's life.
"He did a beautiful presentation of my brother," says Jennifer Ott, Chad's sister. "At the end, it said the Drake family would like to invite everyone to a candlelight vigil."
The Drakes felt the broadcast made it seem as if they were involved. Ott called Alberts, who assured her the vigil was non-political. She then spoke to Sherry Bollenbacher, a member of the Peace Center, who also reassured her it was non-political.
"I looked at my mother and said we have to go," Ott says.
About 20 of Drake's relatives arrived at Dallas City Hall just before 7 p.m. When the family arrived, only a handful of people were there, Herriage says, though they could hear drums. "I thought there was a band. Then it just didn't feel right. I could tell it wasn't like a marching band."
Herriage says a woman approached them and asked if they were there for the vigil. Mrs. Drake introduced herself and asked about the drums. "If this is some kind of protest," Mrs. Drake said, "I'm not going to participate."
Bollenbacher introduced herself and reassured her: "Oh, no, we're just here to comfort you in your grief."
Mrs. Drake saw a man with a basket full of fliers accusing Bush of war crimes. Bollenbacher again reassured her.
"I had told him he couldn't hand those out," Bollenbacher says, but she allowed a banner that read "Vets for Peace."
The Drakes saw that banner and then realized the drummer was wearing a T-shirt that said "Drums Not Guns." Believing it was an anti-war protest, Mrs. Drake burst into tears. She started screaming, "Somebody has lied to me."
Herriage says the situation turned even uglier when another woman walked over, grabbed the weeping Mrs. Drake and shook her. "She said, 'Shut up and I'll explain our cause to you,'" Herriage says. "That's when Ginger went ballistic."
The Dallas Observer identified the woman as Jan Sanders, 73-year-old wife of U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders. "I did not touch her," Sanders says. "I spoke in a calm voice. I didn't challenge her."
When one of the Drakes' supporters blocked a TV cameraman, he pushed back and ran into Mrs. Drake. "Ginger thought he shoved her," Herriage says. After police and Homeland Security officers descended to sort things out, the family left.
Furious, the Drakes demanded that Channel 5 issue an on-air apology.
Alberts says he was horrified and apologized to the Drakes. The station didn't air an apology but posted a story on its Web site quoting an e-mail from a family supporter alleging that Mrs. Drake was "harassed and yelled at, booed and hissed, told her son died for nothing." (None of those interviewed by the Observer reported hearing that.) The story included an apology from Fort Worth state Representative Lon Burnam, director of the Dallas Peace Center.
Burnam blamed Alberts, saying the event was intended to have political overtones and the family should have been informed. "I would have to question the judgment of the people who encouraged her to come to something sponsored by people opposed to the war," Burnam says.
Alberts believes he was misled by Robison, who e-mailed him, other media and the Drakes an apology. "I told each and every one of you that this event was going to be a non-partisan event open to anyone who wished to attend and honor the troops," Robison wrote. "Unfortunately, there was another plan in the works that I was unaware of, and the event turned into yet another political anti-war event. Had I known there was going to be drums, a bullhorn and fliers, I would've never encouraged this family to attend. I feel their grief was exploited by several organizers of the events."
Robison points to Hadi Jawad, coordinator of the Dallas Peace Center's "End the Occupation of Iraq Committee." But Jawad insists the event wasn't political. The drums were supposed to symbolize heartbeats, he says, and the bullhorn was necessary because several speakers were elderly ministers.
"In my opinion, we held a very respectful memorial service," Jawad says.
Bollenbacher says she feels responsible, too. "I had invited people to come who I know through democraticunderground.com," Bollenbacher says. "We really were trying to make it a space where we could come together and put aside all our differences and honor all the lives that have been lost. I wanted them to know how many people in the community really cared. I wish I'd done it differently."
Still reeling, the Drakes spent the rest of the week planning Chad's funeral, scheduled for September 17. "The Army isn't releasing who has been the 1,000th casualty," Ott says. "To me, as a sister, it wouldn't matter if he was number six or 2,000. He was over there fighting for you and me." --Glenna Whitley
Forgive Kurt Kretsinger if he's not getting his job done. Kretsinger sounds sheepish when you ask him how his day job is going--he runs a small publishing company--because he knows he's been spending too much time moonlighting.
Once you see his side project, aka "the best little museum in Dallas," you'll probably forgive him.
Saturday, Kretsinger and a host of volunteers who made it happen unveil the White Rock Museum, a 450-square-foot space inside the Bath House Cultural Center (521 E. Lawther Drive), from noon until 5 p.m. The space promises a small but historically important array of multimedia offerings, lectures and exhibits designed to tell the human and natural history of White Rock Lake.
"We've been talking about trying to make this project happen for years," says Kretsinger, the museum's director. "Dallas has pockets of great history, and much of that is known--JFK, Fair Park, etc. But White Rock Lake's history is a huge, huge part of Dallas, and we felt there needed to be something that explains and honors that."
The museum will give visitors the basics of the lake's history, how it was created in 1913 when Dallas, growing and fresh off severe droughts in 1909 and 1910, was desperately in need of a new water supply. In 1917, prisoners constructed Lawther Road, which surrounds the lake, to handle the people seeking recreation there. Since then, parts of the lake have been used as fishing spots, a retreat for the city's elite, a boot camp, a World War II prisoner of war camp, overflow SMU housing, a bathing beach, a floating dance pavilion, a speedboat hub, a cruising hangout for teens and finally the recreational urban oasis of a largely dry, beauty-starved city.
"I'm in awe of the people I've worked with," Kretsinger says. "Considering we had so little money, it's amazing we were able to accomplish this." --Eric Celeste
Let this serve, more than anything, as a warning: Don't end up like Dan.
Dan lives in East Dallas on Ravendale Lane. In 2001, burglars looted Dan's house twice (which is why he's hesitant to use his last name for this story). The first time, the burglars didn't take much, a computer and stereo system mostly. So Dan put in a security system. Three days later, thieves broke in again.
Pissed off, Dan called around. So did his neighbor, Patrick Kiker. What they heard were circular answers. What they heard, in other words, was the city's bureaucracy, they say.
Turns out, after you pay for an alarm system for your home, you need to pay the city $50 for an alarm permit, ostensibly so the city and your alarm company can keep matching files and dispatch cops when need be. But in reality, even after you pay for your permit, you'll get a letter from the city asking you to call your alarm company and read to them the permit number printed on the letter. If you don't call your alarm company, or if you don't get the letter--Dan doesn't recall receiving his--the city of Dallas won't respond to your threat. Which is what happened the second time Dan's place was burglarized.
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Senior Corporal Chris Gilliam of the Dallas Police Department says the city in 2003 received 73,589 false alarms. The permit number helps guard against fake threats.
When asked why the city and an alarm company don't coordinate information once the permit fee is paid, Gilliam said, in a roundabout way, that the permit number is a good way to guard against fake alarms.
When asked again, he repeated his answer.
Which leads Kiker to wonder, "What is the $50 going toward?" --Paul Kix