And this is the original story about Sheehan's meeting with Bush, republished in the same newspaper.
Article Launched: 06/24/2004 06:00:00 AM
Bush, Sheehans share moments
By David Henson/Staff Writer
Since learning in April that their son, Army Spc. Casey Sheehan, had been killed in Iraq, life has been everything but normal for the Sheehan family of Vacaville.
Casey's parents, Cindy and Patrick, as well as their three children, have attended event after event honoring the soldier both locally and abroad, received countless letters of support and fielded questions from reporters across the country.
"That's the way our whole lives have been since April 4," Patrick said. "It's been surreal."
But none of that prepared the family for the message left on their answering machine last week, inviting them to have a face-to-face meeting with President George W. Bush at Fort Lewis near Seattle.
Surreal soon seemed like an understatement, as the Sheehans - one of 17 families who met Thursday with Bush - were whisked in a matter of days to the Army post and given the VIP treatment from the military. But as their meeting with the president approached, the family was faced with a dilemma as to what to say when faced with Casey's commander-in-chief.
"We haven't been happy with the way the war has been handled," Cindy said. "The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached."
The 10 minutes of face time with the president could have given the family a chance to vent their frustrations or ask Bush some of the difficult questions they have been asking themselves, such as whether Casey's sacrifice would make the world a safer place.
But in the end, the family decided against such talk, deferring to how they believed Casey would have wanted them to act. In addition, Pat noted that Bush wasn't stumping for votes or trying to gain a political edge for the upcoming election.
"We have a lot of respect for the office of the president, and I have a new respect for him because he was sincere and he didn't have to take the time to meet with us," Pat said.
Sincerity was something Cindy had hoped to find in the meeting. Shortly after Casey died, Bush sent the family a form letter expressing his condolences, and Cindy said she felt it was an impersonal gesture.
"I now know he's sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis," Cindy said after their meeting. "I know he's sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he's a man of faith."
The meeting didn't last long, but in their time with Bush, Cindy spoke about Casey and asked the president to make her son's sacrifice count for something. They also spoke of their faith.
While meeting with Bush, as well as Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, was an honor, it was almost a tangent benefit of the trip. The Sheehans said they enjoyed meeting the other families of fallen soldiers, sharing stories, contact information, grief and support.
For some, grief was still visceral and raw, while for others it had melted into the background of their lives, the pain as common as breathing. Cindy said she saw her reflection in the troubled eyes of each.
"It's hard to lose a son," she said. "But we (all) lost a son in the Iraqi war."
The trip had one benefit that none of the Sheehans expected.
For a moment, life returned to the way it was before Casey died. They laughed, joked and bickered playfully as they briefly toured Seattle.
For the first time in 11 weeks, they felt whole again.
"That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together," Cindy said.
David Henson can be reached at email@example.com