War Divides an American Town

While patriotism runs high, patience with the Iraq war runs thin in W.Va.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va., May 27, 2007 — -- In this small West Virginia town, nearly everyone knows someone who has served in Iraq.

Waiting for a haircut at a downtown barbershop, Michael Stotler says he once thought about joining the Army, like his uncle. But he changed his mind as his view of the Iraq war soured.

"In the beginning, when it started out, I thought [the war] was good," he explains. But now, he says, it's just getting worse and worse by the day.

Sitting in the barber's chair, Gregory Williams agrees. He thinks Congress should set a date for withdrawal. "There has to be some kind of timeline, or else we'll be over there forever," he says.

Martinsburg is home to a veterans' hospital and a wing of the Air National Guard. Every Memorial Day, the town's boy scouts put flags on the graves of those who have served, and the local paper runs profiles of veterans. Most here are quick to say they support the troops.

"The sense of support is still there because there are so many people that we know, that we have feelings for," says Maria Lorensen, editor of The Berkeley Journal.

But while patriotism remains high, patience is running thin. It's reflective of a growing pessimism across the country.

"Americans supported the war initially; they supported it for a fair amount of time, subsequently; but they've lost faith," says Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center.

Martinsburg is located in a swing district within a swing state. The local congresswoman, Shelley Moore Capito, is a Republican, while the state's two senators, Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, are both Democrats. In 2004, West Virginia went for President Bush.

But when it comes to the war in Iraq, views here don't necessarily fall along party lines.

At the counter in Patterson's Drug Store, Roger Fazio is a Republican who voted for Bush. Now he wants the troops out. "We shouldn't be over there," he says. "I'm praying day by day to get 'em home."

Sitting at a booth in the back, Janice Neukam, a former Pentagon employee, calls it a "difficult situation," but she worries about the impact of withdrawing too soon. "If we pull out now, what's going to happen?" she asks. "Are they going to come over here on our turf?"

Across town at the local wine and arts festival, others say the U.S. has an obligation to finish what it started.

"I don't like seeing people killed," says Bridget Snapp, a guidance counselor at the middle school. "But I don't like pulling out of the country and leaving it devastated, either."

Cynthia Grills' son Chad left last Tuesday for Fort Dix. She says he and the other servicemen and women are fighting for a worthy cause.

"If my son can be a part of bringing freedom to the Middle East, then they can have him," she says, her eyes welling up with tears. She pauses, and then adds, "They better bring him back. That's the thing."