Oct 262005
Authors: Brandon Lowrey

Fort Collins resident Richard Payne was among the dozens of protesters who gripped candles and signs at a Wednesday night vigil for the 2,000-plus U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.

"It warms my heart," he said, referring to the still-gathering crowd that braved the cold to stand at a corner of College and Mulberry streets. "Maybe there's a chance."

But Payne said he couldn't wrap his mind around the number: 2,000 soldiers. He certainly couldn't bring himself to count his nephew, Pfc. Jesse Alan Givens, as one.

"I see him as a 14-year-old, sitting with my daughter at a tea table," Payne said. "He was talking in a falsetto voice, talking to her. He couldn't see me. He was a big kid with a beautiful heart, spending time with his cousin like that."

On the day of Given's funeral – Mother's Day – Payne said after asking why gloves covered the hands of his nephew's body, he got a glimpse of Jesse's last moments he never would have wanted to imagine: Givens was driving a tank that rolled over in the Euphrates River. The rest of the crew was able to escape, but he was stuck inside for the three hours it took the water to trickle into his cabin.

The father of two had clawed off his fingernails as he scrambled to the shrinking pocket of air. So he wore gloves to his funeral.

"But I can't picture him as a soldier," Payne said. "I don't want to picture him drowning in a tank for three hours because he believes the president's lies."

The vigil, organized by Fort Collins-based Strength Through Peace in response to news reports that the military operation in Iraq has reached the 2,000-death milestone, was primarily composed of picketers. They began at about 5:30 p.m. and stayed until after dark.

Many of their signs focused their attack on the war. Several, however, attacked President Bush.

Armed with a marker, Fort Collins resident Jerry Gerber was coloring in some block letters on a tattered sign. It would soon read "Impeach Bush."

Gerber said he's protesting on the corner on most Saturdays for about an hour.

"This is our corner," he said.

The sign is at least two years old, Gerber added with some measure of pride. It had a message on the other side, but it had become too faded from the sun and the edges were frayed.

On Saturdays, the corner plays host to a heated battle of wills between the war supporters, who gather at the northeastern side of the intersection, and the anti-war crowd, which gathers at the northwestern side. Victory is measured in honks or supportive waves and shouts.

On Wednesday, the war supporters' side was vacant.

"I don't know," Gerber mused. "Maybe it's paying off finally."

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