MARGARET WARNER: American troops have been on the ground in Iraq for two-and-a-half years, and nearly 1900 of them have lost their lives.
CINDY SHEEHAN: Thanks for coming.
MARGARET WARNER: Now in increasing numbers, some of their families are beginning to speak out publicly about the war.
CINDY SHEEHAN: I represent 62 percent of American public who believe this war is a mistake and want the troops to come home.
MARGARET WARNER: Cindy Sheehan of California, who camped outside the president's Texas ranch last month, became a catalyst for anti-war protests. Other families of slain soldiers have rallied in support of the war effort.
SPOKESPERSON: What part of "support our troops" don't they get?
MARGARET WARNER: The last two weeks President Bush has been publicly acknowledging the numbers killed and saying the way to honor their sacrifice is to finish the job.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home. Each of these heroes left a legacy that will allow generations of their fellow Americans to enjoy the blessings of liberty. We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for.
MARGARET WARNER: To explore the families' feelings in more depth, we brought together four parents who have lost sons in Iraq.
Paul Schroeder lives in Cleveland. His son, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Auggie Schroeder, was one of 14 Marines killed last month when their lightly armored vehicle hit a roadside bomb during an anti-insurgent offensive in Anbar Province.
Jorge Rincon lives in Atlanta. His son Army Private First Class Diego Rincon was killed by a suicide bomber at a military checkpoint in Najaf in 2003.
Linda Ryan is from Gloucester, New Jersey. Her son, Marine Corporal Mark Ryan, was killed by a suicide bomber near Ramadi last November.
And Barbara Porchia lives in Camden, Arkansas. Her son, John Cheetham, was a private in the Army Reserves. He died two years ago when his humvee was hit by a rocket- propelled grenade outside Baghdad. Mrs. Porchia is also a member of Gold Star Families for Peace.
MARGARET WARNER: First I want to thank all of you for your sacrifice and express our deepest condolences. Tell me what your sons told you about the war, about how they felt about it, whether it was through letters or e-mails or their visits home.
BARBARA PORCHIA: My son, when he talked about things happening over there, he always tried to make it sound positive. But you could hear certain things in his voice that you knew, you know, it wasn't right. But he was very upbeat. He knew that I would worry about him a lot. And he always tried to make it sound as if he was okay.
MARGARET WARNER: Paul Schroeder?
PAUL SCHROEDER: Auggie, when he arrived last March was equally positive. He told us a lot about the friendly Iraqis that he met. Then came Operation Matador in May. And he stopped talking about the friendly Iraqi people. In Matador he saw death up close and personal.
The last telephone conversation I had with him two weeks before he died, this would have been late July, he simply said this is not worth it. We seem to be going back to the same cities sweeping insurgents. And they only come back. We cannot secure these places. And it's just not worth the effort.
MARGARET WARNER: And Jorge Rincon?
JORGE RINCON: Our case it was different because it happened so soon that ten days after the war started, he died. And it was hard for us. He didn't so much chance to feel the pain or the sorrow that happened to the other soldiers. He was worried about how hard that fighting was going on. And he was worried because he saw somebody killed, and he was the sergeant and the sergeant had a little baby. And he was so sad with that, and everything -- I was crying that week before those persons from the United States Army came to my house. Two days before, I was crying, and I knew something was going to happen to my son. It happened.
LINDA RYAN: The tours of Iraq Mark endured were in Ramadi, Iraq. Ramadi is a hotbed for insurgency. It was really, really hard. I could hear --Mark is a very strong man physically, mentally, a well fit Marine -- I could hear it in his voice. At one point, in November -- he was killed on Nov. 15, 2004. Two days before, even two weeks before, he would communicate also by telephone. I could hear it in his voice. It got to be one point that I said, "Where are you?" He sounded that bad; he sounded like he would have been in a hospital. Very tired, could barely speak.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel that your son died a hero -- that he died for a just cause?
LINDA RYAN: Yes, I do, most definitely. Mark totally believed in what he did. He not only went over there for his brother Marines, he went over there for the people of Iraq. It was even said in his eulogy, because it was in Mark's own words: If just one child lives to love America and what we're trying to do for them, I have done my job.
BARBARA PORCHIA: I feel that my son and every other soldier that has died over there, they died heroes. But as far as the cause, I question. You know, when we were led to war, we were led to war based on the principles of weapons of mass destruction, imminent threat in connection to 9/11. And to this day, we know that those things did not exist. But I feel the soldiers did what they were ordered to do, and they were all heroes.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you feel he died in vain?
BARBARA PORCHIA: No, because he did what he was ordered to do. And I feel like if you -- our military, they volunteer to serve, honor, and protect our country, and our commander-in-chief ordered them to go there. And his death was not in vain. I don't think any soldier's death was in vain.
PAUL SCHROEDER: I think all of these soldiers who died there, including our son, died a hero, in large part because they did their duty. It was tough work. Did he die in vain? I'm not so certain that this cause is just, but we're there. And my point, my wife's point and mine, is that I don't think the way that we have fought this war has been appropriate, ergo, I think he died needlessly.
If the administration would have listened to the professional military people in 2003, who said you will need to occupy this country, you will need to secure it, it will take several hundred thousand troops-- those troops are not there.
So my personal opinion is, my son died a hero, but he died needlessly. A lot of these soldiers have died needlessly because this policy of only 138,000 troops is wrong. We advocate sending in more. Do the job right.
JORGE RINCON: Diego said to me, "Dad, I need to be there. I don't want nothing to happen to us. I don't want nothing to happen to my family. And I have to go over there to fight those guys. They're doing some -- they're going to be doing something bad later to us, and the best way to do it is going over there, and not doing nothing here."
He never died in vain because he was doing something that he believed. And no matter what is the decisions of the president, no matter what, this is the United States of America, and this is the best country in the world. And we have to be blessed because we live in the best country. And sometimes we have to pay the ultimate price.
PAUL SCHROEDER: I would agree with that. I agree completely with what he said. To sacrifice for your country is noble. But to sacrifice needlessly for a failed policy, I'm not arguing whether we should be in Iraq or not. We're there. But to sacrifice your life for a policy that for 28 months has not worked -- 28 months -- now, you know, the definition of insanity is to do something over and over and over again, expecting a different result.
LINDA RYAN: Exactly. But the 28 months, the beginning of all this, as I believe it, as my son told me, this was not -- it was unexpected. The increasing insurgency basically overpowered what we had there.
PAUL SCHROEDER: Well, what would that tell you then? If you're being overpowered and your goal is to make a democratic, stable Iraq, wouldn't you then send in enough troops to stabilize it?
LINDA RYAN: But our forces -- our numbers and our forces -- you've got to remember, I'm coming from a Marine family.
PAUL SCHROEDER: So am I.
LINDA RYAN: Marines are the few.
PAUL SCHROEDER: I understand that. The Marines -- I believe the Marines in this war are being misused. The Marines are a fighting force.
LINDA RYAN: Yes, they are.
PAUL SCHROEDER: -- not a stabilizing force.
LINDA RYAN: Right.
PAUL SCHROEDER: That's the job of the army.
LINDA RYAN: Right.
PAUL SCHROEDER: Had there been enough troops on the ground to secure these cities, the mine in the road that blew up my son's amphibious vehicles would not have been there. And I dare say that all of these -- many of these other injuries or deaths since May 1 would not have occurred.
The Iraqi people, had there been enough troops on the ground to stabilize these cities, the Iraqi people could have gotten their country up and running and rebuilding the city, the cities quicker, sooner than later.
MARGARET WARNER: President Bush has said to honor the sacrifice that all of your sons made, the US needs to stay and finish the job. What's your view of that?
BARBARA PORCHIA: I don't think -- you know, our soldiers that we've lost, they're already being honored, okay? And I don't think having the death of another soldier is the answer to honoring what we've already lost. And what I say is that we need to come together at the table -- forget about politics -- and say, how can we do this and get our troops out of there?
We need to get to the table and get some plans to make an exit strategy, come together, and unite as a country and get this war over with and come home.
JORGE RINCON: The only thing that I have to say myself is, we have to finish this. We have to finish this no matter what, because something big is coming later. Something big is coming later, and everybody is going to be sorry. And I don't want another Sept. 11 to happen. Believe me, I say that from the bottom of my heart -- I don't want that. I don't want to see any more people suffering in the United States.
And that's why we have to do it the right way. And the only way to do this is to pray to God for peace, but it's hard. At the same time, you're watching every single day, all the soldiers, they are dying, and it's hard for my wife, it's hard for me, it's hard for everybody.
But we need to finish this and we went for something. And I need those people from Iraq to have the same opportunities that we have here in the United States, and they cannot do it by themselves.
BARBARA PORCHIA: That's why I think we need to have the military to get in there, get the job done, stabilize that country, and get out.
JORGE RINCON: That's true.
LINDA RYAN: I definitely would like to see, if we are to go to the table for a good cause, and the good cause is to liberate the people of Iraq and the hideous war in Iraq. What happened to all our unity from 9/11, where all this has been created from? Stop wasting information back and forth protesting antiwar whatever, pro-war. Stop. It's wasting energy. Let's sit down, get this job done, and bring our boys and girls home to their families, and no more bloodshed.
BARBARA PORCHIA: Thank you.
JORGE RINCON: Amen.
PAUL SCHROEDER: I agree with whatever what everyone said, but I take a different point. The president said honor these fallen heroes by finishing the job. Well, he has yet to define what "finishing the job" means. That means that my son's buddies -- a good Marine is taught you don't fight for your country, you fight your buddies -- my son's buddy on his right and his left are now in jeopardy, and my son can no longer help them, protect them.
So to honor my son, my wife and I have chosen to speak out about this quite vociferously. I think it's time that we send more troops in to do this job correctly. Had we done that in the beginning, we would have been out probably within a year. And if there is not enough political will or political support to do that, then we should pull them out.
MARGARET WARNER: We're going to have to leave it there. I thank you all four very much.
JORGE RINCON: Thank you.
LINDA RYAN: You're welcome.
PAUL SCHROEDER: Thank you.