Sons killed in Iraq; mothers turn political

Sacramento Bee (California)

Sons killed in Iraq; mothers turn political

Tracy and Vacaville women do TV ads to help defeat Bush

WASHINGTON – Nadia McCaffrey lost a son and gained a cause, a woefully uneven trade that nonetheless thrust the Tracy resident into the 2004 presidential campaign.

Her only son, Patrick, was a soldier, killed in Iraq. Her new cause is defeating President Bush. Her allies are other bereaved relatives who launched a nationwide ad campaign this week challenging the Republican president.

“The day my son died, my life totally changed – totally changed,” McCaffrey said at a National Press Club news conference Wednesday. “That day, I had to do something about what is going on in the world today.”

McCaffrey has joined Vacaville resident Cindy Sheehan, whose son, Casey, was killed in April, and others in the ad campaign organized by a new political action committee called

The Los Altos-based PAC claims to have raised $200,000 and wants to buy a combination of national cable television time and targeted time in battleground states. No TV time has been bought yet.

Organizers say the money has come from “progressive Democratic donors,” including some associated with the group

The new organization hopes to join a media battlefield jammed with signals from other independent groups. The Progress for America Voter Fund, for instance, began airing 30-second ads Friday, visually linking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to Osama bin Laden.

In many cases, as with the controversial Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads that ran in August, the groups cultivate media attention to amplify individual ads that might run only a few times. That’s why, with the help of a Washington-based public relations firm, organized the Wednesday news conference.

Each 30-second advertisement by features a family member, starkly filmed in black and white, speaking with unvarnished pain and anger about the family’s loss. The ads don’t explicitly call for Bush’s defeat or Kerry’s election, but there is no mistaking the sentiment.

“We have been so betrayed by this president,” Cindy Sheehan said Wednesday. “He has lied to us. He has betrayed my family. He betrayed my son.”

Sheehan is 47. She still can laugh, but she looks tired. She was given a script to read for her ad when the camera crew showed up at her home. She set it aside. Instead, tearful then as she was Wednesday, she spoke to the camera, describing her son’s last mission.

“And the sergeant said, ‘Sheehan, you don’t have to go,’ because my son was a mechanic,” his mother says in the ad. “And Casey said, ‘Where my chief goes, I go.’ “

Army Spc. Casey Sheehan died in a Baghdad slum on April 4. The 24-year-old former Eagle Scout had been in Iraq about two weeks, serving with the 5th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division.

Army Sgt. Patrick Ryan McCaffrey died June 22. He was shot in the chest multiple times, ambushed while patrolling in the city of Balad, 85 miles north of Baghdad.

Both mothers hooked up this year with Deane Little, a politically active molecular biologist. He formed a liberal group called Speak Up America in the 1990s, running ads attacking Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, and he formed in July.

Both mothers believe their sons died needlessly, in an unnecessary war.

“All of the things that were promised before going to Iraq – it was a lie,” Nadia McCaffrey said. “A complete lie.”

Nadia McCaffrey is 59, a native of France and a naturalized U.S. citizen. The former Sunnyvale resident has lived in Tracy since her son’s death, helping care for her daughter-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter. It’s what she promised her son she would do when he shipped out for Iraq in January.

Patrick McCaffrey was 34 years old when he died, a decade or so older than most of the other 1,054 U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. He had enlisted in the National Guard in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the East Coast. He did not, his mother says, envision the Iraq war as a way to fight the terrorists who attacked his own country.

“Can somebody tell me,” she said Wednesday, “why my son had to die?”

The Bee’s Michael Doyle can be reached at (202) 383-0006 or

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