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Hundreds gather by Fort Lewis to support war resister Watada

DuPONT - Fort Lewis has sent thousands of soldiers to fight in Iraq. On Monday, it received worldwide attention for one who refused to go.

Hundreds of activists gathered outside the gates of Fort Lewis for a daylong demonstration of support for 1st Lt. Ehren Watada as his court-martial got under way on post.

More than 30 regional, national and international news media outlets reported on the proceeding inside the courtroom, with many capturing the lively scene outside - signs, speeches, a parade of puppets and even an appearance by a Hollywood celebrity.

Dan Shea, a 58-year-old Vietnam veteran, traveled from Portland to join the throng.

"I think what he's doing is his duty," Shea, a member of Veterans For Peace Chapter 72, said of Watada. "I believe this is an illegal war, and I believe he's standing up for the right cause."

Although outnumbered, opponents of Watada's position made their presence felt even if they sometimes got lost in the crowd.

Chuck Lawrence, a disabled veteran who served two tours in Vietnam, said that once people sign a military contract, they must follow orders, whether they agree with them or not.

"You're not allowed to pick and choose," he said.

But it was clearly Watada supporters who were out in force.

They gathered on an Interstate 5 overpass and in Iafrati Park to express their views on the war and Watada's stand.

In the park, activists carried signs with anti-war slogans, handed out literature and listened to speeches. Activists from Tacoma carried large puppets around that were used in a skit in which the Bush administration and Congress were put on trial for their role in the invasion of Iraq.

Earlier in the day, Sean Penn, an Oscar-winning actor and staunch war critic, attended the demonstration and was photographed hugging a father whose son was killed in Iraq.

Muhammad Ayub, who recently moved to Olympia and has quickly emerged as a leader in the local peace community, praised Watada for standing up for his beliefs.

Many more have joined the peace movement since Bush announced last month his plan to deploy more U.S. service members to Baghdad to quell the violence in the capital city, Ayub said.

"Wrong is wrong, not just from last month but from the first day," he said.

But not everyone was convinced. Bob Clement, a co-founder of the DuPont Bridge Brigade, a local troop-support group, said Watada's energy has been misdirected.

"He's got guts, but he's using them in the wrong way," said Clement, a disabled Korean War veteran who lives in Lacey. "If he showed as much guts over there, the terrorists wouldn't have a chance. They'd run for cover."

Christian Hill covers the city of Lacey and military for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5427 or at chill@theolympian.com.

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