From Vietnam Veterans Against the War,

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2006 Veterans Day Observance, Chicago

By Amy Meyers

It was a crisp November day in Chicago when VVAW held their annual Veteran's Day observance at the Vietnam memorial. Folk singer Anna Stange opened and closed the event with folk songs. This year's speakers included veterans of the past 50 years, each giving their own personal rendition of war and the continuing impact. VVAW's GI Counselor Ray Parrish was this year's emcee; between speaker introductions he offered some of his own insights.

Steven Majors on Veterans Day 2006, Chicago

Eric Alhberg served in Afghanistan and Iraq with the 82nd Airborne. He joined the Army out of high school for the college money. From the start, he questioned the motives of the Iraq war, stating he was against the war but went because he signed the contract. Upon his return, he recalled feeling alone until he was back in college and experienced the anti-war movement first hand. It was then that he became aware of VVAW and joined IVAW. He advises returning vets to talk about it, acknowledging that his own speaking out against the war has been a release for him.

Melissa Woo, Don Goldhammer and Robin Schimer, 3 members of the "Tasty 7" spoke on their arrests this past July, while counter recruiting at the Taste of Chicago. Military recruiter's reportedly told the Chicago Police they felt intimidated by the 'peace recruiters' presence. The counter recruiters were told to go to the imaginary 'free speech zone' located behind dumpsters, upon refusing, 7 were arrested. Chicago is the most militarized school district in the nation, not only are military recruiters prevalent in most high schools, they come out in full force to public venues such as the Blues Fest, Taste of Chicago and the Air and Water show. The right to leaflet in opposition to military recruitment of youth is a hassle each year, however, this action was the first that led to arrests, and a striking opening to the summer season for "peace recruiters" and the right to free speech.

Adam Navarro served 3 years as a MP with the 101st airborne including a 6 month tour in Kosovo. Adam discussed the sacrifices veterans make and why he thought it was important to allow his voice to represent those active duty soldiers who can't speak today. He reminded the crowd that "war is tragic, that the military serves one purpose in war: to kill the enemy, but when troops return home they continue to make sacrifices, along with the difficulties of reintegrating into society." Adam went on to say that the people do not support the war or the administration's polices, stating "the war on terrorism is terrorism, war solves no fundamental problems, the death toll is rising, and while Rumsfeld can resign, can those fighting in Iraq also resign?"

Joe Miller is an active VVAW member and National Coordinator, as well as professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois. Joe spoke on the generational connections, from his aunt's attendance, a WWII veteran and member of VVAW, to the countless other Veterans from various generations, at this year's observance. VVAW members have been informing folks about the lessons they learned from their war, their era. Now the younger vets help keep VVAW members motivated to continue the struggle for veteran's rights and peace and justice worldwide. "Bring home the sons, daughters, grandkids that are over there now." In a film class he teaches on Vietnam (showing Sir! No Sir!, Born on the 4th of July, Winter Soldier…), Joe mentioned that many don't know that the veterans as well as the soldiers fought during that war to end the war. VVAW has been wiped out of the history books but new scholars are finally coming out and putting us back in the history books. Veterans and GI's stood up against the Vietnam War. "Its important students learn this part of history. We need to be visible, make these connections with the vets of today's generation." In closing Joe quoted from a 1971 speech by John Kerry, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Aaron Hughes served 1 year 3 months and 7 days in Iraq with the Illinois Army National Guard. Aaron thanked VVAW for helping him to have a voice, having been frustrated trying to find a voice, find a space to come back to, "when everything you realize, everything you thought about the way the world was, isn't true."Never fully understanding why he was deployed, what they were doing, why they couldn't help the kids that were lining the roads of Iraq, why the civilians were looked at like they weren't people, how money and contracts are more important or how his unit didn't have proper armor until 3 months before leaving, were some of the questions that led Aaron to where he is today. This frustration led to meditation and his art work, trying to create some type of understanding, redefine who he is through art and activism.

Gerry Condon, a Vietnam War resister, who spent time in Sweden and Canada, has been working with Project Safe Haven, which is comprised of war resisters and conscientious objectors since the Vietnam era, who support the war resisters of today. Gerry met AWOL soldier Kyle Snyder doing this work and is traveling with him now. Gerry introduced Kyle to the crowd of Chicagoans that have come to know him over the previous weeks, as he was very active in Chicago during November telling his story to schools and media.

Kyle Snyder on Veterans Day 2006, Chicago

Kyle was recruited in October of 2003, given promises of money and other benefits. He signed up as a heavy construction equipment operator, believing he would be helping to rebuild Iraq by building schools and roads. After arriving in Kuwait his job was changed to 50 cal. gunner providing escort for high ranking officials. He witnessed the shooting of a civilian, which was not properly investigated and brought him to further question and doubt the Iraq war and US military. He saw Iraqis angry and fed up with the occupation, realizing the people in Iraq were fighting just like him. Youth, 17, 18 years old defending their homes, doing the same thing he would do if someone attacked his home in the United States. While on leave, he fled to Canada where he remained for a year and a half. Kyle recently returned to the US under the impression from the Army, that he would be discharged without prison time. Upon turning himself in and being told otherwise, he's since gone AWOL for the second time and is now traveling the states speaking out. Kyle said "demonizing the Iraqi people, saying they are lesser beings than we are, is what keeps this war going and once soldiers in country, in Iraq, realize that these people are people, they're not anything less than we are…that once they realize this - the war will stop. Once people follow their conscience, this war is going to stop. I followed my conscience and I'm being persecuted for it."

Steven Majors, a Vietnam Army veteran read 2 poems about what the Veteran has provided the people. And with experience and compassion, Ray closed with a Native American prayer and reminded us that post traumatic stress disorder is a matter of conscience, saying "obey your conscience and cure yourself." Imploring everyone to "visualize peace, bring end to war and get the help we need for our Veterans." In the blistery cold air, between the observance and Aaron's art exhibit opening, VVAW had a party outside of the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum. VVAW's very own, Barry Romo and Bill Davis, took turns as master chefs on the grill, while others partook in the festivities, eating and drinking over comical, solemn and poignant conversations. The party and exhibit were well attended and a great success.

Aaron Hughes is the first non-Vietnam era veteran to exhibit artwork at the NVVAM. In Aaron's art exhibit "Shifting Memories," he shares a series of projects that bring to the forefront the over-complex personal realities of the War in Iraq. Conveying a series of metaphors, critiques, and ambiguous narratives in order to deconstruct the nostalgic war epic that informs much of how mass media interprets war. Veering away from ideologies, these projects point instead to the complexity of daily experiences, practices, and tactics. This shift suggests that personal expressions and independent alternative communications can deconstruct the social, cultural, and political walls that foster dehumanization.

Amy Meyers is a member of the Chicago chapter of VVAW, the Chicago Coalition Against War and Racism and
the Chicago Coalition Opposed to Militarization of Youth.

Veterans Day, Chicago, 2006

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