News of American losses on Sunday — and reports that the Iraqis were holding at least five American POWs — deepened concern for families whose loved ones are among the the 267,000 American troops in and around Iraq.
"It was a bad day," said Bill Eastwood, whose 19-year-old son Airman Billy Eastwood is a crew chief at a base in Qatar, providing ground support to F-16s flying sorties over Iraq. "I'm a veteran of the Vietnam era and I have a hard time watching all these young men go in there."
Roz Turner, who lives on an Army base in Germany and whose husband, Spc. Randy Holloman, is in Iraq, said what she saw of the POWs only made her more angry about the war.
"It makes me feel like if this wasn't going on, those people would be home safe," said Turner.
Sunday was the first day when there was extensive coverage of combat between U.S. and Iraqi troops, including film of Iraqi soldiers and civilians trying to find a purportedly downed U.S. pilot, and there was also news of increased casualties and reports of Americans taken prisoner.
The coverage might have caused some to turn away, but Charles Elwood of Milton, N.Y., said he let his 17-year-old daughter Danielle watch, even if they made her worry more about her boyfriend, Jason Sarbacker of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Division.
"I want her to learn about what's going on," Elwood said. "I don't have any problem with her or her younger brothers watching anything they want to show on TV because it's reality. It's important that they see all the aspects of it."
Anger Over POW Family Interviews
Some families were angry that the media interviewed families of some of the newly captured POWs.
"That was a totally uncalled-for approach for us families that's got people over there," said Elbert Birge, father of Navy Petty Officer Brian Birge, who is deployed in Iraq as part of a land-based unit providing harbor security.
Birge and his wife Linda, of Lee's Summit, Mo., were furious to see a reporter ask a sobbing Anecita Hudson how she felt on learning that her son, Army Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, had been taken prisoner by the Iraqis.
"She was already under enough stress as it was… That was exploiting something. We can see [the war] by watching the reporters that are embedded with the troops. We don't have to hear from a mother that's grieving because her son was captured," said Birge. He suggested that the media wait at least 48 hours before approaching the families of Americans who are killed or taken prisoner.
Coverage Makes Family Feel Closer
In general though, families were happy with the coverage of the war, saying it gave them a better understanding of what the troops might be going through. They praised the major television networks for choosing not to show the Iraqi TV footage of the American POWs and bodies.
Many family members said they were glued to the coverage, following it intently to pick up any clues about where their loved ones might be or how they might be doing.
The Birges said they were watching 14 hours of television a day. "It puts me closer to knowing where he's at," Elbert Birge said.
David Rozier, whose son 2nd Lt. Jonathan Rozier is with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, says he is "surfing channels all the time."
Rozier, who lives in Katy, Texas, hasn't heard from his son since he shipped out to Kuwait in mid-February, but he knows that the 3rd Division is heading toward Baghdad and believes his son is with them. He has been able to put together "bits and pieces" about his son's likely movements, and plans to compare notes with his son when he gets home.
Rozier, 48, remembers the Vietnam war, when families sat down at dinner and watched the evening news for television pictures shot three or four days earlier. The live reports from Operation Iraqi Freedom "bring you closer," he said.
No Chance to Slant News
They praised the reports from the journalists who are "embedded" with the troops.
"It's the greatest thing," said Elbert Birge. "We see what's going on. We see it right away. No one has time to slant it one way or another. The media can't slant it. The military can't slant it … because there it is."
For others, though, some of the coverage is a little too close to home.
Debbie Williams of West Des Moines, Iowa, said her son, Sgt. Michael Williams of the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marines, is with a unit she believes is in the group that ABCNEWS reporter Mike Cerre is embedded with.
"I appreciate the information as far as the coverage of the war itself, but I think as a person you have to be kind of disciplined and not get lost in it," she said. "As a parent it's kind of frightening, and it's detrimental to me in terms of carrying on with my life."
Filling the Void
Some family members said the coverage helps fill the void left by their loved ones and by the lack of communication they've had with them since the war began.
"I'm in here pacing the floor watching the news. It's an empty house without him around," Eastwood said from his home in Oregon late Sunday night.
Eastwood said he follows every bit of news he can get. He says he sometimes get frustrated about gaps in the coverage. On Sunday, for instance, he heard a report that there had been an explosion near Central Command in Doha, Qatar. Then he heard nothing more for the rest of the day, leaving him to worry whether it was near where his son was.
It turned out to be a gas tank exploding at a car-crushing lot a mile away from the headquarters.
"I find myself just pacing back and forth just worrying about the young guys," Eastwood said. "My days are filled with anxiety."
For Artie Guenette, who hasn't heard from his son, Pfc. Brian Guenette, since a letter he received on March 18 that was postmarked March 3, the television coverage provided a firsthand report on what he son's unit was doing Sunday night, when an officer from the unit was interviewed by ABCNEWS' Ted Koppel."
"I'm fighting it two ways, but I can't stay away from it," Artie Guenette said. "I think it helps, because you know where he is, you get a good feeling for where he is and get a feeling of the danger he's facing."
Too Much Focus on Protests?
On the domestic front, coverage of the anti-war protests has drawn mixed reactions, from people who are glad to hear the demonstrators' message, to those who say the right to protest is part of what makes America great but don't believe that this is the time for it, to those who feel that people should get behind the president or stop shouting.
"I believe that most of the people protesting are just against the war, not against America or the troops," Roz Turner said. "I'm against the war, too, and I love America and I love our troops."
Debbie Wiliams said if the protesters felt they had to march, she just wished the media would not give them so much coverage.
"I'm deeply troubled by the media focus on the anti-war demonstrations. Not every network is doing it, but to me it's detrimental to the morale of our troops," she said.
"I strongly support the right to free speech and to demonstrate — that's what our flag stands for. But each time I see them on the news, I get such a painful fist in my stomach, thinking about how proud my son is to wear the uniform of his country and how much it means to him when he knows we are proud of him, his fellow Marines and all the other service men and women for representing us so well," she added.
For others, the images of massive demonstrations broadcast around the world presents an image of a divided country, which they don't believe is truly representative of the mood in America, and which could provide comfort to Iraq.
"I respect people's rights to have their own opinions about things — that's what my son's over there fighting for — but the problem I have is they embolden our enemies, they provide an opportunity for people like Saddam Hussein to think they have an opportunity to widen rifts in America," Rozier said. "We wouldn't even be in the war if it weren't for people opposing our efforts in the first place."