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Caravan for U.S. troops shows colors

Times Staff Writer

Kyle Crowley, an 18-year-old Marine, died in Iraq nearly three years ago. Stricken by stress and grief, his father, Mark Crowley, suffered a near-fatal heart attack about 17 months later, on the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The elder Crowley, now 48, a sheet metal worker from the Northern California town of Tracy, wasn’t healthy enough to return to work. He’s been searching for meaning in his life ever since.

The one thing he’s sure of, however, is that he doesn’t want his son’s life to have been lost in vain. That’s why he joined a cross-country caravan of military families and supporters urging the U.S. to support the troops and criticizing politicians and antiwar activists for calling for troop withdrawal from Iraq before the job is done.

“Many have died for these colors,” Crowley told supporters at Griffith Park on Friday as he held a U.S. flag. “If you don’t support these colors, get the hell out.”

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The Los Angeles stop was one of two dozen rallies Crowley and others in the Move America Forward caravan will hold as they make their way to Washington, D.C., over the next eight days under the motto “These colors don’t run.”

About 100 supporters -- including many veterans -- added several dozen flags of all sizes to the caravan’s collection, which the group plans to display in “a giant flag city of red, white and blue patriotism” on the National Mall next weekend.

Move America Forward is protesting the antiwar rallies planned for the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The caravan includes two other California parents -- Debra Argel Bastian of Lompoc, whose son died in Iraq, and Debbie Johns of Granite Bay, whose son is serving his third tour there.

In essence, they are part of the caravan’s anti-Cindy Sheehan movement. They are trying to show the counterpoint to the growing public opposition to the war.

“Cindy Sheehan is yesterday’s news,” said Bastian, whose son, Capt. Derek Argel, a graduate of the Air Force Academy, was killed on Memorial Day 2005. Bastian and Johns say they honor the commitment and sacrifice of Sheehan’s son, Casey, who was killed in Iraq, but deplore the way his mother has acted -- camping outside the White House and President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, to protest.

The parents contend that partisan politics is hurting the military’s efforts in Iraq. They denounced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) as an “armchair general.”

Crowley said his 24-year-old daughter disagrees with him about the war. But in his view, it’s us or them. “If we don’t finish it, they will. If we pull out or can’t win, [the terrorists] will make Sept. 11 look like a bar fight. They’re radical, and their only meaning is killing innocent people.”

A former Army ranger, Crowley said he could shoot an elk at 600 yards with a single shot. He wishes he could trade his own life for his son’s -- or any of the other 3,000-plus troops who have died.

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Kyle had a twin brother who died at 4 months, a victim of crib death. Crowley and Kyle’s mother divorced while he was in college, and he raised Kyle mostly alone. “So God has given me two, and taken both back,” Crowley said.

valerie.reitman@latimes.com


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