TRACY, Calif.—On the day her son Patrick McCaffrey died on a blacktop farm road in northern Iraq, Nadia McCaffrey's war began.
Her first act was to invite the press to the Sacramento Airport when her 34-year-old son's flag draped-coffin was brought home at the end of June 2004.
At a time when the Pentagon was attempting to keep photographs of the returning coffins out of the American press, the Sacramento Airport scene attracted international attention.
From the first interviews with newspaper obituary writers, Nadia was outspoken about her own opposition to the war as well as her son's growing reservations at the time he was killed.
"Patrick was overwhelmed by the hatred there for Americans and Europeans," Nadia told a reporter for The Times. "He was so ashamed by the prisoner abuse scandal. He even sent me an e-mail to tell me that not all the soldiers were like that. He said we had no business in Iraq and should not be there. Even so, he wanted to be a good soldier."
Since her son's June death in an ambush outside the big American military base at Balad, Nadia McCaffrey has appeared at dozens of peace rallies, anti-war vigils and ceremonies for other soldiers killed in action. Along with a handful of other parents whose sons and daughters have died in Iraq, McCaffrey dedicated herself to the anti-war movement.
In late December, she went to the Middle East, traveling to Jordan with a humanitarian aid delegation sponsored by the San Francisco organization, Global Exchange.
The group distributed $600,000 in humanitarian aid for victims of American military actions in Fallouja. But plans to travel inside Iraq, where Nadia hoped to visit the site of her son's death, were scrapped because of security concerns, not just for the Americans but also for the Iraqis who had volunteered to take them inside.
In Jordan, Nadia met with five Iraqi mothers who had lost children in the fighting.
"My dream," she said, "was to be able to find at least one Iraqi mother, who like me suffered a loss, and be able to have an exchange without hatred or anger about the way we feel. Talk about what to do to start working for peace. And do it mother to mother, with no governments."
Before leaving Jordan, Nadia had already decided to return in 2005 to set up a non-profit safe house for women and children. And she still wants to see the farm road where her son fell.
Born in France just after World War II to a Serbian father and French mother, Nadia has long been a pacifist.
"I grew up in the aftermath of war," she told an audience at a Unitarian church in Davis in December. "I remember Dien Bien Phu (the 1954 French colonial defeat in the Indochina War). Then we had Algeria."
At the Davis church, homemade cookies were spread out on card tables and a youth chorale sang carols. Yellow helium balloons drew attention to a donation box for the upcoming Middle East trip, and to a signboard displaying a picture of Patrick in dress uniform, his face a study in seriousness.
"The basic meaning of the mission is peace," McCaffrey told the small audience in a speech that was part plaintive mother's grief and sharply worded call to action. "It's a first step, and I hope that other people will follow."
Patrick, she said, loved children and worried most about the Iraqi orphans who were starved for food and love. Then she held up a picture of a little Iraqi girl holding a sunflower as big as her head. She said that the girl had given Patrick the flower the day before he was killed.
"I am going to Iraq because someone has to do this," she said, her dark eyes flashing.
Now 59, she is an impressive figure who speaks with a slight French accent.