MALONE -- Thousands of people, including many from Clinton and Franklin counties, are expected to converge on Watertown this weekend as part of a statewide March for Peace.

Activists from as far away as Utica, Rochester and Ithaca have been walking a few miles a day since May 8 to get to Watertown and the U.S. Army installation at Fort Drum on Saturday to show support for active-duty soldiers and call for peace and an end to the war in Iraq.

It is also a way to draw more attention to the problems and challenges faced by veterans and the returning soldiers.

According to the Web site nysmarchesforpeace.org, members from dozens of organizations, civic groups and churches are taking part in the march, which culminates Saturday at the Fort Drum Spring Festival at Black Water River Park and Campgrounds at 1605 Huntington St. in Watertown.

It is a day of fun, entertainment and music for soldiers and their families and is sponsored in part by the Different Drummer Café, which is a gathering place for veterans and active-duty soldiers who speak out about against war.

Booths will be set up at the festival with displays concerning military Veterans Administration benefits, home loans, information on disability, treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and more.

Musical entertainment includes Endangered Species with Tommy Gunn and Double Barrel Blues.

SMALL MIRACLE'

Alison Murie of Skerry said the Plattsburgh activists and war protesters will likely come through as their Malone counterparts are gathering at the corner of Main and Elm streets Saturday morning.

Some will then move on to connect with activists in the Village of Potsdam who protest regularly near the Post Office there.

Peace activist Jack Andrus of Plattsburgh said that for him and the other Clinton County participants, the march is intended to focus public attention on the Different Drummer Cafe and its function as a community-outreach center for soldiers and a place for them to relax and gather information.

"If this is a movement, then it's a small miracle happening," he said. "Our soldiers need this type of place to go since the current military systems are overwhelmed and gridlocked.

"The recent national publicity on (post-traumatic stress disorder) and the attempted suicide rate of 18 a day is but one example of the issues our soldiers are encountering.

"I think the march and rally to support community programs of the Different Drummer Cafe are excellent ways to educate Americans about our soldiers' needs and demonstrate positive ways to support and help them."

CASUALTIES

According to a 500-page study by the Rand Institute released in April, there are 101,000 American war casualties a year, including those who have been killed, people suffering brain injuries from roadside bombs and post-traumatic stress disorder, those who committed suicide or attempt it and people who have lost limbs or suffered other bodily injuries.

"It is always difficult for a soldier to reconcile with civilian life but especially now after this military experience, knowing that it's all based on the current administration's lies," Andrus said.

"We honor the troops and want them safe and brought home now. We know war is costing $740 million a day and driving all prices upward.

"Many soldiers, such as the Iraq Veterans Against the War and Veterans for Peace, have realized this war must end to stop further needless casualties -- civilian and military."

draymo@pressrepublican.com

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