American War in Iraq Upsets Rhythms of Community Life; Conflict Divides Island Citizens
These are the voices of an Island in a nation at war:
"I don't think we had much choice." - Charles Felder, manager of the Vineyard Haven Yacht Club.
"I honestly don't know of anyone who is supportive or ready for this." - Annelies Spykman, employee at Mocha Motts in Oak Bluffs.
"They should just go in there and take care of business. They let [Saddam Hussein] go the first time, and I think that was a mistake." - Craig Tankard of Oak Bluffs, at the Vineyard Haven A&P.
"War is horrific and it should be visited on no one. But I cannot in good conscience not support the military. I do question the judgment of those people who are our leaders, but they know far more than I do." - Karen Achille of Oak Bluffs, whose son, Matthew DeVivo, is a captain with the 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Afghanistan.
"Everybody's wondering how it's going to affect us on the Island - but everybody thinks it will affect us in some way." - Katryn Yedan, waitress at the Main Street Diner, Edgartown.
"It will last less than a week." - Robert S. Douglas, of the Black Dog and Shenandoah.
From Monday, when President Bush announced a 48-hour deadline, through Wednesday night, when television began continuous coverage while the first fighter jets and cruise missiles hit "leadership sites" around Baghdad, and through yesterday, when the ground assaults began, the Island, like the rest of America, waited.
And, while they could, Islanders thought about other things.
In the moments after the deadline expired Wednesday night, there were diversions at Season's Pub and Atlantic Connection, the Oak Bluffs bars. The television screens were tuned to basketball; the music of Steely Dan was on the loudspeakers; men and women were shooting pool. But Season's Pub bartender Caroline Derrig said already the pending war was a frequent topic of discussion - and disagreement. "One person is fervently on one side, and another is fervently on the other," she said.
At Island Entertainment, the video rental store in Vineyard Haven, manager Anne Evasick said customers seemed to be renting lighter, happier videos this week. "People need to escape," she said. "People come in completely tied up in knots from watching the TV news. I say, turn it off."
But the long shadows of the conflict to come kept intruding on everyday life.
John Schilling, the Tisbury fire chief, told the board of selectmen Tuesday night it was time to secure the fire station, the only municipal building in town left unlocked each night.
"In light of current world events, we've received notice from the state and federal government that our department should be secured," he said.
Mr. Schilling said he would look into a coded locking system; keys are hard to keep track of when you have 50 volunteer firefighters on the roster.
Ted Saulnier, the Vineyard Haven police chief, said Coast Guard releases were warning against attacks on ferry services. But Jim Swindler at the boat line said later the Steamship Authority has been communicating with the Coast Guard and "there is no intelligence to indicate we're targets at this point."
Nevertheless, a confidential security plan was in place, and in Woods Hole yesterday, state police were inspecting trucks before they boarded the ferries, and additional police details were on hand at both the Woods Hole and Vineyard Haven terminals.
At the regional high school, parents of the choral group Minnesingers met to talk about plans for a trip to England. The 35 students in the group had hoped to go to Exeter to sing and travel as part of spring break, but choral director Dan Murphy said some parents and students were voicing concerns about those plans; school superintendent Kriner Cash will make the final decision.
The days of this week here were mostly warm and sunny, with steep patches of fog over the eastern end of the Island from time to time and place to place. The nights were illuminated by a full moon. But increasingly as the week went on, the news from Washington and Baghdad made clear the fact that this would not be a usual springtime.
Moments before the first bombs fell on Wednesday night, there were four people sipping beer at the bar at the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on Towanticut avenue in Oak Bluffs. Valerie Herrmann, of Edgartown, the daughter of Peter Herrmann, the hall commander, said: "I strongly support the troops. I am sick and tired of the protesting around here. These soldiers are over there giving us the right for our freedom of speech here."
Joe Gonsalves of Oak Bluffs, a retired Aquinnah police officer, was a veteran of the Korean War. "I see the President as the commander-in-chief. And whether you feel he is doing the right thing or wrong, you should stand up for your country. For they are men and women who are serving the country," he said.
Farther down the bar was Edward Belain, 26, of Aquinnah. He is unemployed. "It is all pretty devastating," Mr. Belain said, glancing up at the television.
Yesterday at the Woodland Variety & Grill in Vineyard Haven, Gary Sylvia, 22, was flipping eggs. The bacon was sizzling on the grill. Mr. Sylvia, the chef, said: "When they were talking about dropping bombs, I thought it wouldn't get to that."
Over by the soda case, Edward Krikorian, of Oak Bluffs, was sipping coffee.
Mr. Krikorian is a celebrated Island veteran. Stationed at the naval airport, now the Martha's Vineyard Airport, Mr. Krikorian was among the first to arrive on the scene there Jan. 21, 1944, when two men died from inhaling gasoline fumes while inside a fuel tank. Mr. Krikorian was honored in an airport ceremony in 1999 for his efforts that day; a plaque there bears the name of the two dead men.
Mr. Krikorian said of the previous night's attack: "I think they should have given the United Nations inspectors more time. I think it would have saved a lot of problems. There would have been a lot more countries on our side."
But he added: "I know Saddam's two sons are bad actors. You can't trust them."
The commander of the American Legion is also the Dukes County veterans agent. Jo Ann Murphy, a Vineyard Haven resident, has had a busy week talking to a lot of veterans. "Veterans look at things a lot differently," she said. "When you are in the military, you don't ask whether it is right or wrong. You follow the orders of the commander in chief, the President." Mrs. Murphy said she went straight from high school into the military. The year was 1972. "I thought I would serve my country. I never thought whether it was right or wrong."
Earlier this week, Mrs. Murphy said, she spoke to a Vietnam veteran who was concerned about the new wave of protesters demonstrating. "He said he felt bad when he was in Vietnam to hear that people back in America were calling them baby killers. He was very upset.
"I told him it was their right to protest. It was their constitutional right to say what they want."
Wednesday afternoon, you could watch Gen. Wayne Downing from all of the four televisions positioned around the exercise room at Triangle Fitness in Edgartown. The sound was muted, captions flashing on the screens, and the two people on treadmills concentrated on moving to the heavy beat of The Grateful Dead. Beth McElhiney from the Triple Fire Gallery was visiting her friend, Helayne Folts, a part-time employee at the club.
"Everybody I know is talking about it," Ms. McElhiney said, "because we were all involved in the antiwar protest; going to Washington and going to New York and e-mailing all of our representatives. I'm part of the Peace Council, so everybody I know has been very active in trying to prevent this strike. Everybody I know has had a very negative winter and is in kind of a depressed place."
Ms. Folts said: "People in general are uneasy. It's hard not to think about it. You try to go about your daily life, but it's always there in the back of your mind."
Ms. McElhiney added: "People who live here tend to be really involved in their community and in trying to make a change. And although maybe we couldn't affect it, we felt like we had to do something."
The Wednesday night family-style potluck dinner at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven was lively. The buffet table was laden with a variety of dishes. Seated at one of the tables, Betsy Holcomb said she holds "an unrealistic hope for a quick end." And, no, she will not cancel plans to visit her daughter in New Orleans.
The Rev. Alden Besse, director of the Vineyard Peace Council, said this: "For me, when it seemed certain that we were going to war, it was the darkest day in history that I've seen in my 78 years. I feel that our administration was probably misled - misled by a lack of humility; by a disregard for what the Declaration of Independence says is a due regard for the opinions of mankind; [by a] disregard of what the world thinks."
And: "This idea of a preventative, or preemptive, strike is a complete abrogation of the long and noble attempt to discover ways in which people can live together under just laws and at peace. This doesn't stand up in our courts; it doesn't stand up in the world courts; and it doesn't stand up in the court of God."
Julie Meader - flying solo with two kids in diapers since her husband Jared's National Guard troop headed to the desert region two weeks ago - managed to stay awake just long enough to hear President Bush's remarks at 10:15 Wednesday night, as the first attack was launched.
"It's easier to not watch so much of the news than to stay glued to the television and worry about him," said Mrs. Meader, an Oak Bluffs resident.
With the actions of this week, she feels in essence another countdown has begun. With every bomb dropped, with every Iraqi soldier surrender, she believes the nation is one day closer to welcoming the troops back home.
"It's a lot easier now that it started," she said. "It will hopefully happen quick."
Mr. Meader, who is part of a water purification unit out of Pittsfield, called just two days ago. He cannot tell his family his precise location.
Contributing to this article were Vineyard Gazette staff writers C.K. Wolfson, Mark Alan Lovewell, Mandy Locke, Chris Burrell and Jonathan Burke.