Sydney Morning Herald -- Tuesday May 16 2006
Stop this terrible waste, grieving mothers tell Bush
Love and loss … actress Susan Sarandon and bereaved mother, Cindy Sheehan, at the White House rally. Photo: Reuters
By Phillip Coorey in Washington
UNTIL yesterday, Summer Lipman did not know Australia was involved in Iraq.
She knew that her son, Steven Sirko, planned to go there for a holiday when his tour of duty in Iraq finished. "He always talked about it," she said.
Sirko, 20, went to Iraq in January 2005 as a combat medic. He died on April 17, 2005 of "non-combat-related injuries".
The army said he died in his sleep. His mother believed he was overworked, often operating for 24 hours a day on poor food. He lost 20 kilograms in his few months there.
The last time they spoke, he asked her to send a video game. "He was just a boy," she said.
His coffin was returned to North Carolina on a cargo plane. It was the last piece of "freight" unloaded, four hours after the dogs and the baggage.
Ms Lipman believes this was done after dark because of a ban by the Bush Administration on the photographing of flag-draped coffins.
As the Prime Minister, John Howard, spends the week in Washington reaffirming Australia's support for the war, Ms Lipman's story, and that of the other 2400 mothers who have lost their sons in Iraq, is beginning to loom large in the US.
They present a slant to the conflict not apparent in Australia, which has suffered only one death.
Speaking to the Herald after addressing a Mother's Day anti-war rally outside the White House, Ms Lipman was shocked to discover Australia was also involved and implored Mr Howard, of whom she had never heard, to get the troops out.
"It's a waste," she said.
So, too, did Cindy Sheehan, who became the face of war-bereaved mothers after camping outside Mr Bush's Texas ranch to protest at the loss of her son, Casey.
Standing alongside anti-war movie star Susan Sarandon, she told the rally: "I'm wearing my son's [army] jacket. I always wonder if he was wearing it when he was killed. I search the back for bloodstains but the stain will always be on my heart," she said.
Ms Sheehan, who will be in Australia next week, told reporters afterwards that Mr Howard and Mr Bush were "fools".
"I am going to be rallying the Australian people, who I know are overwhelmingly against George Bush and this war.
"Quit supporting my country and supporting crimes against humanity. You don't spread peace by killing people."
Sarandon concurred. "Stop supporting Bush and the war crimes," she said.
"It's not working. No matter what you think their role is, it's not happening. So before you sacrifice anyone else you should pull out.
As they spoke, Ms Lipman shuffled off, the grief all too much. She was comforted by her friend Georgia Stilwell, from Wisconsin. Ms Stillwell's son Robert, 20, came home from Iraq. But she said he is so mentally damaged that he is now jobless and homeless.
She shows his photos in a cheap, flip-out picture wallet.
There is a picture of him, shirt off, welts and blast wounds on his shoulders and chest.
There is another of the interior of a wrecked car, covered in the brains of an Iraqi her son had just killed. "Most kids his age, they hit a dog and they're disturbed," she said.
"My boy was seeing this and doing this every day," she said. "No child should have to do that.