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Memorial Day; Bury the Dead, Heal The Wounded, Stop The Wars!

May 24, 2012


I will spend this Memorial Day, along with hockey and guitar pickin’ pals, A.J. Guarino and Mark Topping, at the Viet Nam Memorial in Pueblo, Colorado.  We will join our comrades from the Howard Zinn Chapter of Veteran’s For Peace in observance of the day and render a program of  music appropriate to the occasion.  Keynote speakers will be Kelly Daugherty, founder of Iraq Veterans Against the War and prominent peace activist. Bill Sulzman.

In seeking an appropriate comment in this blog, it didn’t take long for me to settle on Amy Goodman’s excellent essay that appeared in Nation of Change, published by King Features Syndicate.  It says it all, requiring no further comment from me.

Thursday 24 May 2012

Leading thousands of protesters in a peaceful march against NATO’s wars, each veteran climbed to the makeshift stage outside the fenced summit, made a brief statement and threw his or her medals at the gate.

Memorial Day:  Honor the Dead, Heal the Wounded,

Stop the Wars.

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Gen. John Allen, commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, spoke Wednesday at the Pentagon, four stars on each shoulder, his chest bedecked with medals. Allen said the NATO summit in Chicago, which left him feeling “heartened,” “was a powerful signal of international support for the Afghan-led process of reconciliation.” Unlike Allen, many decorated U.S. military  veterans left the streets of Chicago after the NATO summit without their medals. They marched on the paramilitarized convention center where the generals and heads of state had gathered and threw their medals at the high fence surrounding the summit. They were joined by women from Afghans for Peace, and an American mother whose son killed himself after his second deployment to Iraq.

Leading thousands of protesters in a peaceful march against NATO’s wars, each veteran climbed to the makeshift stage outside the fenced summit, made a brief statement and threw his or her medals at the gate.

As taps was played, veterans folded an American flag that had flown over NATO military operations in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan and Libya and handed it to Mary Kirkland. Her son, Derrick, joined the Army in January 2007, since he was not earning enough to support his wife and child as a cook at an IHOP restaurant. During his second deployment, Mary told me, “he ended up putting a shotgun in his mouth over there in Iraq, and one of his buddies stopped him.” He was transferred to Germany then back to his home base of Fort Lewis, Wash.

“He came back on a Monday after two failed suicide attempts in a three-week period. They kept him overnight at Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis. He met with a psychiatrist the next day who deemed him to be low to moderate risk for suicide.” Five days later, on Friday, March 19, 2010, he hanged himself. Said his mother, “Derrick was not killed in action; he was killed because of failed mental health care at Fort Lewis.”

On stage, Lance Cpl. Scott Olsen declared: “Today I have with me my Global War on Terror Medal, Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal, National Defense Medal and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. These medals, once upon a time, made me feel good about what I was doing. … I came back to reality, and I don’t want these anymore.” Like the riot police flanking the stage, many on horseback, Olsen also wore a helmet. He is recovering from a fractured skull after being shot in the head at close range by a beanbag projectile. He wasn’t shot in Iraq, but by Oakland, Calif., police at Occupy Oakland last fall, where he was protesting. On stage with the veterans were three Afghan women, holding the flag of Afghanistan. Just before they marched, I asked one of them, Suraia Sahar, why she was there: “I’m representing Afghans for Peace. And we’re here to protest NATO and call on all NATO representatives to end this inhumane, illegal, barbaric war against our home country and our people. … It’s the first time an Afghan-led peace movement is now working side by side with a veteran-led peace movement. And so, this is the beginning of something new, something better: reconciliation and peace.”

The night before the protest and the summit, Allen threw out the first pitch at the “Crosstown Classic” baseball game between the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs. Members of the teams joked that Allen could join them in the dugout, if he would only quit his day job. I dare say, the members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War wish he would.

After the march and the return of the medals, I caught up with Kirkland’s mourning mother as she embraced her new family: those who were protesting the wars that had taken the life of her son. I asked if she had any message for President Obama and the NATO generals. This quiet, soft-spoken woman from Indiana didn’t hesitate: “Honor the dead, heal the wounded, stop the wars.

© 2011 Amy Goodman Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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ABOUT Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 900 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.


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  1. David Mates permalink

    Vietnam was not yet a house hold word when, fresh out of high school, I enlisted in the US Army in 1965. Nonetheless I felt very seriously about my sense of duty to my country and wanted to fulfill that commitment. In late 1966 I was ” boots on the ground ” in RVN and spent my tour in a forward area with some of the best men I will ever know.

    The work we did was dangerous and intense but there were few complaints about the conditions we were subjected to. However there was always an underlying sense of frustration that our hands were tied by the US government when it came to completing our mission. Regardless of rank, age, or background it affected us all.

    Back in the real world there were all types of peace movements going on but the one that spoke loudest to me was the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. These were guys like me who served their country, saw friends seriously wounded or killed in action and were asking our government why are we fighting a war that you won’t let us win?

    In my mind the United States and her allies could’ve put an end to that war in a heartbeat using conventional weapons combined with special operational tactics but it seemed it was more important for the politicians of that era to cater to the military industrial complex than it was to be decisive. Now, once again, history is repeating itself with the United States involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Like the soldiers of today it was hard for me back then to understand the motives of our governmental leaders and to be honest I still don’t get why Washington still hangs our soldiers out to dry in some of the conflicts they get us involved in. I can understand the frustrations though because at one time I too considered giving the medals I earned back. But it occurred to me that the government didn’t care about me in the first place so it wouldn’t matter to them if I gave back the medals or not. They got what they wanted from me and that was that.

    Please keep what you’ve earned because in part it represents the sacrifice you and your families made for values you hold dear. And the bigger part of it is that you and your brothers and sisters in arms took a stand, willing to lay it all on the line, when it mattered.

  2. Thank you for your heart felt and well considered comments, Dave. In my opinion, the problem goes back to 1950, when this series of undeclared and un-Constitutional wars began and we allowed ourselves to be dragged into these politically inspired wars. Of course it was Clausewitz, (or Bismark, maybe) who said “war is just and extension of politics.” Whoever said it, that was the voice of empire speaking and was certainly so when Mother England and the British Empire manipulated our country into “The War To End all Wars.” The Founding Fathers also understood this and is why they insisted on a formal Declaration of War in the United States Constitution.

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