Candidate bracelets symbolize the debate over Iraq war

Another piece from the Houston Chronicle.

Candidate bracelets symbolize the debate over Iraq war


The bomb's blast threw Army Spec. Matthew Stanley from his gunner's

turret, leaving his body lifeless on a dusty road in Iraq's Sunni

Triangle. When his commander arrived minutes later, the slumping

soldier looked asleep, resting in his full body armor.

Nine months after his December 2006 death, Stanley's name was given a

new life in the U.S. presidential campaign, etched into a black

bracelet his mother gave to Sen. John McCain.

"I asked him to wear Matthew's bracelet not just for Matthew but all of

the other soldiers," said Lynn Savage, his mother. "I think we need to

finish what we started." The death toll of U.S. soldiers in Iraq

reached 4,000 on March 23.

Like Stanley, Sgt. Ryan Jopek of the National Guard was hurled

posthumously into the debate about how long U.S. forces should remain

in Iraq. His mother asked Sen. Barack Obama to accept her son's

bracelet at a Green Bay, Wis., rally in February, 18 months after

Jopek's death, also from a roadside bomb. "All gave some ? He gave

all," reads the bracelet Obama wears on his right wrist.

Both senators say they wear the anodized aluminum bands to honor fallen

soldiers. They also use the names to help frame their competing

positions on the war.

McCain, 71, an Arizona Republican, invokes Stanley's name to show the

United States is capable of sacrifice and that he is prepared to call

for more. Obama, 46, an Illinois Democrat, channels Jopek's mother to

inveigh against a war he never supported.

On the stump, after recounting how Lynn Savage implored him to "make

sure my son's death was not in vain," McCain pledges to stay in Iraq to

achieve victory.

Obama also reprises his meeting with a grieving mother to launch into a

discussion of Iraq. "It has cost us thousands of precious lives," he

said last week in Pennsylvania. "Like the life of this young man, whose

mother gave me this bracelet, commemorating her 20-year-old."

During the Vietnam War, Savage had worn a silver wristband to signal

support for prisoners of war, like McCain. When she attended a town

hall meeting last August and heard McCain discussing his support for

President Bush's plan to dispatch more troops, the parallels

overwhelmed her. She approached the senator and told him about her son.

Then she handed him her bracelet with Matthew's name, his visage and

the date of his death, cut by laser into the curved bracelet.

Both Stanley and Jopek left for basic training shortly after high

school, ambivalent about what they wanted from the military, say their

families and friends.

The two believed in their mission, yet it was a commitment to their

comrades that sustained them.

Jopek's father, Brian, is leaning toward McCain and said his ex-wife

"would like to see the troops come home a little sooner than I woul