Iraq and Afghanistan veterans return medals at NATO protest


CHICAGO - U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars threw their medals towards the site of the NATO Summit May 20 in what was called the most dramatic antiwar action by ex-GIs since Vietnam. One-by-one, more than 40 service members from all branches of the military took to the stage to tell their stories while thousands of anti-NATO protesters listened and cheered.

"I want to tell the folks behind us, in these enclosed walls where they build more policies based on lies and fear, that we no longer stand for them and their unjust wars. Bring our troops home," said U.S. Marine Iris Feliciano who served in Afghanistan in 2002. Feliciano turned and pitched her medals towards McCormick Place here where the NATO Summit was held May 20-21. (Story continues after slideshow.)

Alongside the veterans on stage were three representatives from Canada-based Afghans For Peace whose speakers condemned the U.S.-NATO war and loss of human life and at the same time expressed solidarity with the U.S. veterans.

Suraia Sahar said she had a message for the NATO representatives meeting in Chicago, "For what you have done to my home country, I'm enraged. For what you have done to my people, I'm disgusted. For what you have done to these veterans, I am heartbroken."

Unlike the Iraq war, which garnered significant opposition before and after the 2003 invasion, opposition to the war in Afghanistan, now in its 11th year, has been slower to build among Americans. With war fatigue, an economic crisis and draconian budget cuts to vital public programs, recent polls show almost 70 percent of Americans saying the U.S. should not be at war in Afghanistan.

Dressed in fatigues, Iraq Veterans Against the War with a newly formed section, Afghanistan Veterans Against the War, led the anti-NATO protest march, which stretched for several blocks while almost as many police - many in riot gear - lined the streets or waited in buses that flashed "My Kind of Town Chicago Is" signs. Behind the veterans were CANg8 (Coalition against NATO-G8) marshals linked arm-in-arm giving a pre-agreed upon space between the contingents of the two march organizers. The Rev. Jesse Jackson accompanied the veterans.

The veterans addressed numerous issues during their medal ceremony and testimonies. Calls to free Bradley Manning, dedications to Iraqi, Afghan and U.S. children, condemnations of lies, corporate greed and imperialism and pleas for action on veteran suicide rate, widespread post-traumatic stress disorder and the "right to heal" framed the combat vets personal narratives.

Demands to cut military spending and invest in education, jobs and health care were also made. (Watch video here.)

At the same time, respect for all active duty soldiers, veterans and even police was shown. Some veterans spoke about the positive aspects of service.

"In the military is where I learned what integrity meant, and I believe I served with integrity. At this point in my life, if I want to continue to live with integrity, I must get rid of these [medals]," said Air Force veteran Erica Slone.

In a particularly moving moment, IVAW organizer and Illinois Guardsmen Aaron Hughes dedicated his three medals to "Anthony Wagner, who died last year" and to "one-third of the women in the military who are sexually assaulted by their peers; we talk about standing up for our sisters in Afghanistan and we can't even take care of our sisters here," he said.

With the final medal, Hughes' voice began to quiver with emotion. "This medal right here is because I'm sorry. I'm sorry to all of you. I'm .... sorry," he said.

The veterans came from around the country including Arkansas, Ohio, Wisconsin and New York. When Iraq vet and Occupy Oakland activist Scott Olsen took the stage wearing a helmet the crowd cheered its recognition. Olsen was almost killed last year by Oakland police when they fired a tear gas canister into the crowd and it struck Olsen in the head.

"My name is Scott Olsen," he said. "These medals once upon a time made me feel good about what I was doing. They made me feel I was doing the right thing. Then I came back to reality, and I don't want these anymore." Olsen threw down his Global War on Terror, Operation Iraqi Freedom, National Defense and Good Conduct medals.

At the beginning of the ceremony the veterans presented the American flag to Mary Kirkland, a mother of a soldier who committed suicide after numerous attempts, which were known by the military.

Kirkland said after two attempts, the military deemed her son Derrick to be at "low to moderate risk" for suicide, prescribing medication and drug/alcohol counseling. He made another unsuccessful attempt, she said, and then on his fourth attempt, he hung himself.

On the day Kirkland buried her son in Marion, Ind., she stopped at a gas station and picked up a newspaper and found a surprising statement from the Pentagon.

"The Department of Defense said that my son was killed in action," she said. They also said the "family declined to comment," she said.

"They start out with lies and they continue the lies," she said, adding she felt honored to be a part of the protest.

This is the first time since the Vietnam War - when antiwar veterans threw their medals at the U.S. Capitol in Washington - that such a large number of veterans protested war in such a dramatic way.

Despite the veterans' call for a peaceful exit from the rally site, a handful of protesters confronted the police, resulting in a show of force and violence by the police with demonstrators getting hurt and numerous arrests made.

Photo: Veterans prepare to throw their medals at the NATO Summit, in Chicago, May 20, 2012. Teresa Albano/PW 


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  • Medal for a Crime
    by michael hall

    your spun a lie as a shield so that you'll kill more easily without guilt or remorse
    and it doesn't matter if your team is russian,german or american
    Serve to eradicate any at the order of others who own you...for a flag, for a buck, for 'legal' robbery
    Your given a medal for committing a crime

    So then they ship you to a land you've never heard of
    to terrorize families who've never done harm to you or yours
    but they tell you must 'fight for your country or your country will die'
    they tell you God is on your side...

    But what God sends his own children to slaughter his own children
    when we are commanded not to kill?
    what God sanctions torture to be cruel
    when, we are demanded of to follow the golden rule?

    where is the God who would strafe a village?
    when collaterally or otherwise children are killed by your own violence
    what God i dare you to stain who would profane his name by such nefarious action?

    You join a gang of killers who are dogmatically worshiped beyond reproach
    your brainwashed into longing to murder with mob-lust by whoever gives you a command
    your absolved of conscience and guilt by whatever you do in your countries name, what gall
    then when your tour is over having cashed in for your services, you might even get a medal

    But they never told you about when you go home
    horror folded with military precision within your duffel bag
    they bequeathed you a soldiers heart that never misses a beat
    the moral injury that eats at your soul every night and day
    At the VA they tell you be a good soldier and just go away

    You stare at the medal they gave you hours and hours days upon days
    yet once again, you take it to the bathroom traumatized & obsessed, you scrub to wipe away
    to wash the innocent blood off your medal but it never goes away...
    and your red hands are just one pair of many many misplaced

    Posted by michael hall, 12/16/2012 9:23am (3 years ago)

  • This is once again showing a handful of malcontents, deserters, COS and a few others acting and behaving in a very dishonorabvle way and of making the rest of us look bad at the same time. I saw this at the end of Vietnam and thought I would never see such behavior again, but here we are. There was no draft this time. All these people were volunteers and now they want to cry and act like someone owes them stuff. I damn sure reject them and their actions. They are pissing on the many honorable people that have served this nation.

    Posted by MGSgt Gary Stanley, USMC (Ret), 06/10/2012 8:59am (3 years ago)

  • Great article!

    Posted by JR, 05/28/2012 7:41am (4 years ago)

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