The President Meets With Families With Different Perspectives on War

The President met privately with several families of slain soldiers in Maine Thursday.

President Bush held private and at times emotional meetings Thursday with the families of five Maine soldiers who died in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

The midday meetings, which lasted a total of about 90 minutes, were held at Sea Road School in Kennebunk. Bush stopped at the elementary school on his way from the Sanford Airport to his parents’ summer home in Kennebunkport, where he plans to attend a family wedding Saturday. The president’s weekend in Maine is expected to be marked by anti-war protests.

Nearly 3,000 U.S. soldiers have died since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and although Bush has reportedly met with hundreds of slain soldiers’ families, Thursday’s meeting was believed to be his first in Maine.

Reporters were kept outside, and the White House did not release the names of the families who attended. But after the presidential motorcade sped away, some of the families agreed to discuss their closed-door conversations.

One anti-war widow said she used the opportunity to voice her objections to Bush’s policies.

“I said it’s time to stop the bleeding,” said Hildi Halley, whose husband, Army National Guard Capt. Patrick Damon, died June 15 in Afghanistan. “It’s time to swallow our pride and find a solution.”

She said Bush responding by saying “there was no point in us having a philosophical discussion about the pros and cons of the war.”

The president became emotional, Halley said, when she tearfully described the impact her 41-year-old husband’s death has had on herself and their two kids, ages 12 and 14, both of whom attended the meeting.

“He wept and hugged me and apologized for my pain,” Halley said.

She noted that her husband felt conflicted about his tour in Afghanistan. “He wanted to be in Afghanistan because he wanted to be there for his soldiers,” she said. “But he knew the work he was doing was not creating peace.”Other families were supportive of the President and the war effort.

“To meet with the president, it’s something I never thought would happen,” said Nancy Kelley, whose son, Army Capt. Christopher Cash, was killed in Iraq in 2004. “We were honored — just to share our thoughts about Chris and how he felt about his service to our country.”

During a half-hour audience with the president, Kelley said they spoke “on a number of subjects, but Christopher was first and foremost.”

“I had brought him a framed picture of Chris in Iraq with Iraqi children,” said Nancy Kelley, who has dedicated a Web site, a scholarship, and a 5K race to Cash’s memory. She said she was impressed by the president’s interest in her son…

The couple chose to steer clear of politics.

“We just shared the fact that we were very proud of Chris, and that he was very proud to serve his country,” Robert Kelley said. “We’ve supported the president all the way along.

“Chris supported him, we still support him, and we’ve never had any second thoughts about the president and what he’s trying to do.”

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