From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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Commemorating... and Looking Forward

By Horace Coleman

To commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war I took part in a mock funeral procession organized by the Orange County (CA) / South Bay (Los Angeles County) chapter of MFSO. Pat Alviso and Jeff Merrick, chapter members and very active organizers, thought of and put together the event.

The funeral procession had two cardboard coffins in it bearing the US and Iraqi flags, an effigy of an amputee troop in desert camis bearing a sign that said "Bring Me Home" and cars with signs saying "End," "The," "War," and "How," "Many," "More?" and listing the current number of KIAs in Iraq and Afghanistan. That day it was 4,258. More than the number of people killed stateside on 9/11.

The procession started in Seal Beach, CA. It passed the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station, buildings belonging to Boeing (a major employer in the area), a busy intersection in Seal Beach and headed toward adjacent Long Beach, CA. There it passed the VA hospital and traveled to a local cemetery where a short memorial service was held. Speakers made brief remarks and VFP member Keith Gawith and I read poems as a Marine Corps Gulf War vet, a Native American, played his flute.

Cuautlatoatzin's ancestors didn't cross the border; the border crossed them.

The funeral procession ended in Long Beach outside the office of a US Congresswoman. Army Nam vet Ed Garza officiated there. The coffins were unloaded (lilies were later placed on them). A member of the Long Beach Area Peace Network, Karen Quinlan, spoke. So did a minister, Pastor Gary Chomiak. And a mother of a son (Army) scheduled for deployment and another son (Marine) who'd said to her he was "tired of killing women and children." She'd removed the barrel of a shotgun or handgun from his mouth on more than one occasion. A newspaper account quoted her as saying of people deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, "They need to come home now and heal."

In the cemetery Cuautlatoatzin and I had hugged and he said "Now I know how Nam vets felt." Before he spoke in Long Beach, he shared sage with me. The scent had me soaring like the hawk we'd seen before the procession began.

With obvious pain and bitterness he spoke of being told, "Go back to Mexico!" Of being an ignored veteran. With pain he named fallen warriors—and walked away before the trumpeter played Taps.

Some wounds' scars don't show. I hope Cuautlatoatzin soars. This a poem I read at the cemetery and he asked for a copy:

Welcome home!

You've embraced the suck,
now spit out the muck!

When you get thawed don't be awed
by the talkers who aren't walkers.

By those who think nasty and snarky
are the new tough or spilling a latte
while running a red light
is the new rough.

Use and show what you know:
Courage does not mean lack of fear.
Death is always near.
What "I got your back!" really means.
Words without deeds, or
creeds that don't solve real needs,
are trash talk. And, most balk
at difficult or dangerous doings.

Glide as you stride
through this civilian strife.
Let the clueless rave.
You gave.
Let your devils dwindle
and your angels soar.

What it was, was.
What it is, is.
It's not easy but
blend the best and
later for the rest.
Use new weapons
and tactics a new way
in this new day.

Welcome . . . home!

Essayist/poet/photographer Horace Coleman lives in Long Beach, CA. He is a member of VVAW.

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