SAN ANTONIO -- A number of Texas families with husbands, sons and other relatives serving in Iraq gathered in a drizzle Saturday morning here to voice their opposition to how the U.S.-led war is being handled.
"This is how I show my support," said Candance Robison, whose husband, Army 1st Lt. Mike Robison, is serving with the 82nd Airborne Division in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, the heart of anti-American insurgency.
"If my husband got killed and I hadn't done everything I could to bring him home, I'd never forgive myself," said Robison, a 27-year-old mother of two from suburban Dallas.
Shannon Sharrock, a Baylor University law student, says her heart stopped when she heard that a Black Hawk helicopter from the 101st Airborne Division had gone down near Tikrit on Friday and that all aboard were dead.
Her husband, Capt. Joseph Sharrock, is a Black Hawk pilot attached to the 101st Airborne.
"I immediately thought of Joe," said Shannon Sharrock, a 1997 West Point graduate and former Army helicopter pilot. "He called at 3:30 this morning to make sure I knew that he's OK. ... He knew all six aboard that helicopter."
Sharrock, Robison and others said they wholeheartedly support America's fighting men and women in the Middle East. Their complaint is strictly with the decision-makers in Washington.
"It's our job and our duty to question our government and hold it accountable for what they're doing over there," said Sharrock, who lives in Temple.
Increasing numbers of Americans also appear to have doubts, as more U.S. soldiers die in Iraq, 32 of them just last week.
A CNN-USA Today poll released Thursday found that 54 percent of Americans disapprove of how President Bush is handling rebuilding efforts in Iraq. The same poll in August found that 57 percent supported the president's performance.
Sixty percent of the poll's respondents believe things are going poorly for the United States in Iraq, double the number that felt that way in June, and 39 percent say that it was a mistake to sending troops to Iraq, up from 23 percent in March.
The two dozen Texans who traveled to San Antonio to voice their opposition say the shift in national sentiment toward the war has made it easier to speak up without automatically being branded as being anti-American.
Sharrock said, however, that she still can't share her beliefs with many friends at Fort Hood, where her husband's unit is based.
"They think you can't speak against the war without speaking out against the troops," she said. "I'm against the war, therefore (to them) I'm unpatriotic."
Maria Longoria's son, Army Spc. Raymond Longoria, was flying in a Chinook helicopter next to the one shot down last Sunday near Fallujah that killed 16 Americans.
She says her rare conversations with her son, who is part of an engineering unit attached to the 82nd Airborne, indicate that he's doing his job, but that his morale has started to sag.
"He thinks it's not working and it's getting worse," said Longoria, a Dallas resident whose family entourage included her son's wife, Monica, and 2-year-old daughter Alexis. "Whatever they rebuild, the Iraqis just destroy again."
In south San Antonio, the family of Army Sgt. Michael Paul Barrera laid him to rest.
[Barrera's mother Hilda] Guardiola, who thinks the war Bush launched against Iraq is a mistake, is angry at the president. He didn't see or call her when he was in San Antonio for a fund-raiser, she said. She thinks of a photograph she saw recently of the president hugging an Anglo woman who lost her home to California's wildfires, and she suspects Bush didn't call to offer his condolences because she's Hispanic.
And she thinks that Bush's failure to offer sympathy underscores a greater indifference to the troops.
But she knows Barrera would get mad at such talk.
"'Mom, that's my commander-in-chief, and I am doing my job,'" she recalled him telling her when she criticized Bush.
"OK, Mikey," she would say. "Sorry."
"He had a lot of respect for the president, and we're Democrats. But that was his boss, and you weren't going to talk about his boss."
As the Mass ended, the mourners filed out and waited for the casket to be carried to the hearse. Standing in the crowd, former Army South Commander Maj. Gen. Alfred A. Valenzuela reflected on this, the 11th funeral of a Texas soldier he has attended.
Most, he said, were Latinos who shared much with Barrera.
Valenzuela frankly addressed concerns being voiced that a disproportionate share of the dead and wounded are from rural areas, where options are few, and that many enlisted so they could someday attend the college they could not otherwise afford.
"It's a true statement that they are coming from small cities," he said. "And some are coming from college, true statement.
"They're coming from the post-war generation," he said, noting that today's young warriors aren't too different from himself.
"I'm a baby boomer. My father went to World War II, took advantage of the GI Bill and his son decided to go into the Army.
"This is the new generation," he said proudly, "and they are awesome, absolutely awesome."
Skewed statistics of Latinos in the military is nothing new, he added, noting that Latinos have earned a disproportionate number of Medals of Honor, including one whose recipient was not counted as a Latino for years because his surname was not Spanish.
He also pointed out that Latinos have unusually high retention rates in military service.
Still, as the casualties in Iraq mount, one disturbing element is becoming apparent: The all-volunteer military that replaced a draft once faulted for victimizing the poor, minorities and those from communities where options are few now seems to have many of these same faults.
Shouldn't it concern all of us that the military option attracts a particular group mainly because the other options are far less accessible — whether the group be minorities or rural residents?
And shouldn't all Americans be concerned that some kids may be dying to go to college?