Contingent from W.Va. shows unity

They brought up the rear of the procession, but a group of West Virginians marching in Saturday’s protest in Washington made sure they added their voices to the roughly 100,000 protesting the war in Iraq.

With the smaller states’ contingents near the back of the march line, the 300 to 400 people from West Virginia found themselves far removed from the speakers and sound stage. That didn’t dampen spirits, though.

“Everybody’s happy as hell,” said 85-year-old Winnie Fox of Huntington. “This is the best thing to do.”

Because they were outnumbered by most other states, the West Virginians tended to stick closer together, said Robin Godfrey, president of the Charleston-based West Virginia Patriots for Peace group.

“We’re West Virginians; I think that’s what we do,” said Godfrey, whose son returned from a year of service in Iraq in February. “This is a close-knit state [and] there’s obviously a strong feeling that West Virginians want to march as a group against this war.”

Some former West Virginians even marched along in the state’s section, said Carrie Swing, the Patriots president-elect.

“The goal is letting the folks in Washington know loud and clear that a lot of people are mad about this war,” Swing said. “I think that’s being achieved.”

A friend of Swing’s recently returned from Iraq, and his stories of inadequate supplies and constant danger bolstered her opposition, she said. “Not only is this war not a good thing for us to have done as a country, but we haven’t done it well.”

The marchers also blamed spending on the war for the nation’s delayed response to the flooding in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Swing said.

“There’s a lot of talk that our dollars need to be here,” she said.

The Patriots mounted its Wall of Remembrance, a chain of placards listing the names of soldiers killed in the war, near the Vietnam War Memorial on the Mall. The placards, which the group often puts up by the Charleston public library, drew both praise and tears, Swing said.

“People have been very touched with seeing the names of these soldiers,” said Swing. “People are mourning these people who have died.”

Several other West Virginian organizations also took part in the demonstration. “The groups have different names,” Godfrey said, “but the goal is the same: End the war in Iraq.”

Fox said she was thrilled in particular by the variety of groups and regions represented in the march, calling it “a microcosm of the world.”