Cindy Sheehan: Here Comes The Tornado – OpEd


Cindy Lee Miller was born on July 10, 1957, in Inglewood, Ca. She was the oldest child of Dennis, an electrician, and Shirley, a stay-at-home mom (or “housewife” as they would say back in 1957).

Cindy grew up in Bellflower, Ca. with her sister, Dede and brother, Scott. The Millers were firmly ensconced in the working-poor class and the siblings can recall many times when the electricity was turned off for weeks at a time and a few evictions before their parents split in 1976.

Cindy Lee Miller (a loan adjustor at Security Pacific National Bank—which was long ago consumed by BofA) became Cindy Lee Sheehan on April 30, 1977, when she married, Patrick Thomas Sheehan (a hardware salesman). Patrick and Cindy began their family on May 29, 1979, when their cherished firstborn, Casey, was born. Then, bam, bam, bam—in quick succession, three more children followed: Carly, Andy and Jane.

By all accounts, the Sheehans were a relatively happy lower middle-class family on the Left Coast. Those days, before Cindy went to here “reward”, the Sheehans would have been identified as Catholic and Democrat who were quietly pro-choice and loudly pro-fun. Happy, that is, until April 04, 2004 at 9:01pm, which was the day and time that Cindy died.

April 4th of that year was a beautiful Sunday (Palm, that is) and Cindy awoke worried, but seemingly at peace, about the fact that her dearest oldest child Casey was stationed somewhere in Iraq. Since he had deployed in mid-March, Cindy had been distracted, tearful, sleepless, and without much of an appetite. Casey had been gone before on trips with his Scout Troop and Church youth group (once even to Europe), and Cindy had worried like any mother would, but she discovered quickly that worrying about a child camping up at Yosemite or camped in the heat of an Iraqi desert were two very different things.

The final time Cindy and Casey had spoken, Cindy begged Casey to be careful and he assured her he would. Cindy semi-jokingly told Casey that she would break his legs or take him to Canada and he said that he didn’t want to go, but the “sooner I go, Mom, the sooner I’ll be home.”

On the day she died, Cindy even remarked to Casey’s next youngest sibling, Carly, that it was the first day since Casey left that she felt happy and energized. Boy, Cindy got a lot done that day: laundry, house-cleaning, shopping for food and other assorted tasks one does on a sunny Sunday.

The other three children were out and about around dinnertime, so Patrick grilled up something on the George Foreman grill that Casey had given him on a previous birthday, and Pat and Cindy sat down to a quiet Sunday dinner watching CNN, as was their custom—thinking that watching CNN actually made them “well informed.”

No sooner had Cindy taken her first bite when a burning Humvee popped up on the screen and Pat and Cindy were told that “eight U.S. troops were killed in Baghdad” that day. Cindy’s heart turned to ice and spitting the bite back out on her plate (that was positioned on the oak coffee table that had held hundreds of loads of folded laundry and which also doubled as a tent, launch ramp, car track, coloring table and other assorted kid activities) and croaked out: “one of them was Casey.”

Visibly shaken, Pat started to scream at the air, because he was not really upset with Cindy: “stop it, you don’t even know where Casey is stationed yet, and he’s a mechanic, and there’s tens of thousands of troops there, chances are it wasn’t Casey!”

“I don’t care what you say, I know one of them was Casey,” Cindy cried.

“He’s going to be there for a year, you need help if you are going to think that every report of every soldier wounded or killed is Casey,” Pat answered.

That was it for dinner and Cindy sat around for the rest of the evening waiting for a call or something telling her that her beloved son was dead. Around 8:30, that call hadn’t come, so, feeling sheepish about her relief, knowing that some mother’s son had been killed that day—she took the family’s two dogs, Chewy, a brown and white Shih-Tzu, and Buster, Chewy’s black and white son, for their nightly walk.

In those days before she died, Cindy would just have to start thinking that it was time to walk the dogs and Buster and Chewy would become excited and start to jump around—that evening was no exception.

However, this night on the walk around their normal route, Cindy cried the entire time thinking of Casey and she had just decided that the next day she would see if there was some kind of support group at the nearest US military base, Travis AFB, when she rounded the corner of the garage and she could see, through the open screen door, her worst nightmare in horrible living color standing there: three military man gathered together, as if mustering for an attack on her small world, indeed they were about to make it come crashing down around her.

Cindy knew in her heart that The Army would not come to visit unless Casey was already dead and as she finished the last few steps of the routine walk, the world started to spin and her legs began to turn into rubber and she somehow made it just inside the front door.

Before Cindy fell on the floor and died, she glimpsed her oldest daughter, Carly, standing close to the door having just returned from work with a look of profound shock on her face, and then she saw Casey’s dad, Pat, hands frozen in time where he had been folding a pair of his slacks.

The day, Casey Austin Sheehan, born on John F. Kennedy’s birthday in 1979, was killed in the illegal and immoral war of choice in Iraq exactly 36 years after Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, was also the day his mother, Cindy, passed away.

Cindy lay on the floor doubled over in agonizing pain—screaming so hard she felt like a blood vessel in her brain would surely burst.
To say that Cindy’s heart broke that day would be an inadequate way to describe what happened.

Cindy’s heart wasn’t merely broken it was shattered, spindled, folded and mutilated. The intense emotional pain is felt physically and as Cindy lie on the ground that April evening she prayed to a cruel god to take her also.

One can recall the days when a pimple on picture day in junior high school or when your main squeeze of two weeks dumped you seemed like the end of the world. Before Casey was killed, the Sheehans had money problems and minor teenage angst, which seemed pretty terrible at the time; however, Cindy had nothing at all to compare with the sickly unnatural phenomena of having a child precede her in death.

I said “Cindy died,” but obviously I am alive and well. I can assure you, though, dear reader, that any resemblance to the Cindy of April 3rd, 2004 and the Cindy of today is purely physical. Yes, I look like pre-disaster Cindy, but I don’t act like her in any way, shape or form.

After my son was killed, I was paralyzed or immobilized with grief. I spent all day every day laying on the love seat in the same living room that had been visited by Uncle Sam’s Messengers of Death with my long legs propped up on one arm of the love seat. I would stare for hours at my legs, knees and feet and marvel at the fact that they could move and had substance, when I felt dead inside.

In the first months of my bereavement, I had an unreasonable hatred of the sun. Usually after a sleepless night, I would wonder how it was possible for the sun to rise every morning when my own son was interred in his permanent grave just a few miles away? How could everything and everyone in the world look and act so normally when my entire existence now seemed so profoundly abnormal?

To help my sleeping problem, a well-meaning, but idiotic health care provider prescribed some sleeping pills for me. What doctor’s manual gives the stamp of approval for giving a grieving mother a ‘script for “suicide in a brown-tinted, plastic bottle?” Every night, I would go to the cupboard and pull out my bottle of Ambien, take the prescribed dosage and then use every ounce of strength and energy I had to do battle with myself to not consume every pill in the bottle. There was Evil Cindy sitting on one shoulder telling me that the “pain is too much for anyone to bear, much less a weakling like yourself.” Then the Good Cindy would chime in saying, “Your children already lost their brother. How could you selfishly take your own life and make theirs harder?” Well, Good Cindy obviously won the debate every night, because I am still here, and some people would argue, “Everything happens for a reason.”

The rest, as they also say, is history.

One afternoon, about three weeks after Casey and I died, Carly came out into the living room from her bedroom, to find me prone on on the love seat in my new-normal position and said: “Mom, would you like to hear a poem I wrote.” I was in deep pain, but I was then and still am the consummate mother, so I said: “Of course, honey.” I didn’t know that poem was about to give me another incentive, besides my surviving children, to live.

Carly’s Poem
Have you ever heard the sound of a mother screaming for her son?
The torrential rains of a mother’s weeping will never be done
They call him a hero, you should be glad that he’s one, but
Have you ever heard the sound of a mother screaming for her son?

Have you ever heard the sound of a father holding back his cries?
He must be brave because his boy died for another man’s lies
The only grief he allows himself are long, deep sighs
Have you ever heard the sound of a father holding back his cries?

Have you ever heard the sound of taps played at your brother’s grave?

They say that he died so that the flag will continue to wave
But I believe he died because they had oil to save
Have you ever heard the sound of taps played at your brother’s grave?

Have you ever heard the sound of a nation being rocked to sleep?
The leaders want to keep you numb so the pain won’t be so deep
But if we the people let them continue another mother will weep
Have you ever heard the sound of a nation being rocked to sleep?

Wow, Carly’s poem stunned me, yet I once again felt a deep thrill of life course through my body after she read it—she said it took her about 10 minutes to write. If I were a religious person, I would say that the angels inspired her, because in a little over a year, I moved from the love seat in my living room to a ditch outside of George Bush’s ranch in Crawford, TX.

This is where the “Tornado” part comes in.

Since Casey was killed, I (a dedicated, law-abiding citizen) have been arrested about 15 times for abiding the original law of this nation: The Constitution. I believe that I also obey a higher law than that of the U.S. Constitution: the law of Human Rights.

It is our Human Right, to exercise our free speech and to peaceably protest the crimes of our government. As a matter of fact, I would argue that it’s not just a right, but also a sacred responsibility to do so.

All of my actions, arrests, letters, articles, radio shows, protests, running for Congress, and on and on, will not bring my sweet Casey back, but I feel, as I shirked my duty to him, I have a duty to humanity, now. I not only feel, but have been told, that my activism has saved lives by preventing other “Caseys and Cindys” from making the same terrible mistake we did by not trying harder to keep Casey out of the military to be used as a disposable tool for profit.

If anyone told me less than eight years ago that I would be standing up to authority and not cowering in front of it (no matter what the political party, or badge number of said authority) and that I would have spent many a night in jail with prostitutes, drunk drivers, drug users, other petty accused criminals and fellow activist colleagues, I would have choked on my belly-laughter.

My life before we were killed was being a chauffeur for my children and sometimes working at three jobs just to help make ends meet. Since our deaths, I have met world leaders, actors, musicians, intellectuals, politicians, and even shared a couple of stages with my pretend boyfriend, Jackson Browne. But the coolest thing that ever happened was the day I discovered that I, Cindy Sheehan, had a Secret Service name!

For those of you who don’t know—everyone the Secret Service protects, (like the President and Vice President) has a “code name.” Well, I guess I was elevated to special status when I became the virtual (and best-known) stalker of the 43rd President of the USA, George Bush!

In the summer of 2005, when Camp Casey (named after my son) began, we camped in the ditches of Prairie Chapel Road and in a vacant lot near the faux-ranch that was donated to us—well, after the first year, the county where Crawford is situated passed what were informally known as the “Cindy Sheehan Ordinances,” which prohibited sleeping, eating, using porta-potties, or camping along roads in the county. Consequently, never to be deterred, I bought five acres about five miles from the Secret Service checkpoint to Bush’s converted pig farm cum Flying Photo-Op Ranch.

The summer of 2006 was spent sleeping, eating, and working at Camp Casey III and shuttling protesters back and forth between our peace camp and the checkpoint. Well, that summer, I almost died from female problems, and before I went into the hospital for emergency surgery, I was protesting out at the checkpoint in the 100-degree plus central Texas heat (plus humidity) with the others. However, every time the shuttle van drove to drop someone off, or pick someone up, I went with it, to go back to camp to use the facilities.

Well, after about the 4th or 5th trip, my dear Dallas friend, Diane, who had been near the Secret Service protesting all day, ran up to me and very excitedly said, “Cindy, this is the coolest thing—you have a secret service Code Name!”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Every time you left, they would say, ‘so and so has left’ into their walkie-talkies and every time you came back, they would say, ‘so and so has returned.”

Well, I have already given away my Secret Service code name—it was, “The Tornado.”

I have had many people say to me or write to me that it’s one thing for me to be a political gadfly, and he/she would “love to do what you do, but I am not Cindy Sheehan.”

I always assure them that before I arose from the dead on April 04, 2004, I wasn’t “Cindy Sheehan” either.

It’s very true that by dying, my son gave birth to his true mom, CINDY SHEEHAN. However, I know that the ability to be brave in the face of danger and adversity and to go from being terrified of public speaking to speaking at rallies in front of tens of thousands, and so on, must have always been in me. It’s just a damned shame that it took a tragedy of such immense proportions to bring them out.

I think many in the so-called 1% want us down here in the 99% to believe that “one person cannot make a difference.” I am living proof that’s just pure bullshit.

If, I can accomplish the things I have been able to, trust me, the ability to do so resides in almost every single person on this planet.

You just have to define what your cause is and get off of your metaphorical love seat and start trying to make a difference.

If you do TRY, I can give you my money-back guarantee that you WILL.

This is my submission to an essay contest that Michael Moore is sponsoring.


Wish me luck!

Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan is an American anti-war activist whose son, Specialist Casey Sheehan, was killed during his service in the Iraq War by the Mehdi Army on April 4, 2004. She attracted national and international media attention in August 2005 for her extended anti-war protest at a makeshift camp outside President George W. Bush's Texas ranch — a stand which drew both passionate support and angry criticism. More of her writings can be found at Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox: Writing from the Emprire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *