March 27, 2003
Operation Dire Distress: Veterans March Against War with Iraq
BUZZFLASH READER COMMENTARY
(March 23, Washington, DC) I'm not a veteran. Although I'm one of the few males from my working class family who did not go into the military, I wanted to support the vets who have fought in previous wars as they voiced their opposition to Bush's insane war.
So I went to DC on Sunday to march with the Veterans Against the Iraq War coalition. I am proud and honored to have been a part of this event.
I went with two friends who are both peace activists and veterans (one from WWII and Korea, the other a Vietnam-era disabled vet). Although the crowd number probably never went over 1000 at its peak, veterans from as far away as Santa Fe, NM showed up for what organizers called Operation: Dire Distress, a wake up call for America, as one vet described it.
Nearly every war since WWII was represented at the protest, and both men and women veterans were there (including in-country nurses from Vietnam, whom vets referred to as the "real heroes of the war"). Many vets wore fatigues along with their ribbons and medals. A variety of races were there as well (although they were black, white, and Hispanic, in combat they were all green, as one vet put it referring to the olive drab fatigues worn by soldiers). Military families of Americans currently in the Persian Gulf were present as well.
When we arrived at the site, vets were milling around near the Vietnam War memorial, some carrying upside down US flags, others holding signs that read: "Support our troops. Bring them home," or "Support our troops. Impeach Bush."
As over a dozen police on horseback looked on and a police helicopter circled overhead, vets faced the black stone wall with names of their fallen comrades etched onto it and placed a wreath by the memorial. A veteran played bagpipes.
A solemn march then proceeded to the various war memorials in DC (Korea, the site of the future WWII memorial, etc.), where wreaths were also laid. Then we took to the streets.
Marching toward the Veteran's Administration, we chanted in the form of military call and respond cadence:
"Bush and Cheney talk war talk. But we know that they're chickenhawks."
"They wave the flag when we attack. But when we come home they turn their back."
Other chants included: "Bush went AWOL, you should go to!"
With very few exceptions, bystanders clapped, honked horns, gave thumbs up. Occasionally someone challenged marchers about the need to invade Iraq, to which one marcher said: "If it's so important to him why the fuck doesn't he enlist?"
Near the VA, we heard veterans from Vietnam, the Gulf War, and WWII talk about Agent Orange, Gulf War Syndromes, and the "atomic veterans," those servicemen who were unwitting guinea pigs for testing radioactive fallout from A-bomb blasts. As the US government cuts even more aid to veteran's hospitals and programs, vets said they are fighting now for compensation, medical treatment, and recognition of the sacrifices they made.
The march culminated at a rally on the Ellipse near the White House. A delegation of vets, led by a Marine who lost a leg in Vietnam, walked over to the White House to deliver a petition against the war, signed by over 2000 veterans.
Not surprisingly, the White House refused the petition. Veterans were told to drop it in the mail. However, they were invited to use the White House Visitor Center restroom.
Speakers at the rally included Daniel Ellsberg, the person who leaked the Pentagon Papers during Vietnam; combat veterans; and an in-country nurse who served in Vietnam (1969-1970). The nurse challenged the notion that anti-war protesters do not support the troops. She said she supported the troops by bandaging their wounds, refreshing their blood bags, sitting with them as they lay dying.
She knows what supporting the troops really means.
The rally ended with a powerful symbolic gesture: Veterans were invited to say a few words and leave mementos in a body bag in protest.
Vets threw copies of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, photos, and one person threw the Bronze Star into the bag. Fighting back tears, another veteran contributed something in the memories of his friend who was killed in Vietnam and of the Viet Cong soldier the veteran killed four months later.
The body bag will be used at other Veterans Against the Iraq War protests. Organizers said it would be a waste to send it to the White House.
A BUZZFLASH READER COMMENTARY
If you'd like to support the coalition of veterans opposed to the war in Iraq, visit these sites:
Veterans Against the Iraq War
Veterans for Common Sense
Veterans for Peace
Vietnam Veterans Against the War
To learn more about Military Families Speak Out, visit:
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