Lincoln vets remember and look ahead

OAKLAND, Calif. – Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the America’s Watch, told a crowd of more than 400 Lincoln Brigade Veterans and others that the fight against terrorism demanded the closing of the School of the Americas (SOA), at Ft. Benning, Ga., as part of the people’s fight to combat terrorism.

Bourgeois spoke at the reunion of the Veterans of the Lincoln Brigade (VALB), held to mark the 65th anniversary of their defense of Madrid. Bourgeois has been leading a 10-year campaign to pressure Congress to cut off funding and close the SOA, which has trained and graduated thousands of soldiers from all over Latin America who have been involved in mass murders and atrocities in their home countries

Bourgeois told of being called on the phone by the commanding general at Ft. Benning after Sept. 11 and being asked to call off the protests at the camp gates because it would be seen as detracting from the president’s war on terrorism.

Bourgeois told the general that the SOA represented the worst kind of terrorism and that it would be a major contribution to stopping terrorism if the SOA were closed down permanently.

Bourgeois and the SOA Watch movement later helped build one of the largest protests when 10,000 people came to Ft. Benning in November 2001 and called for closing the school. A further expansion of the campaign will begin next January when a daily vigil at the gates of the camp will be carried on by people from all over the U.S. who will demonstrate for the closing of SOA throughout the year.

Bourgeois made a strong appeal to the audience to support the coming peace rally set for April 20 in Washington, D.C. where the U.S. role in the Colombian civil war will be a major focus.

Following Bourgeois’ remarks, the audience was treated to a powerful presentation by the San Francisco Mime Troupe of a documentary with slides and songs of the Spanish Civil War titled “What They Stood For.”

The program, written by Peter Glazer and Bruce Barthol, traced the development of the Lincoln Brigade from its formation in 1936, through the battles of the Civil War in Spain and the departure of the Brigade in 1939.

Earlier in the program, Dave Smith, Commander of the Bay Area Post of the Brigade, introduced 15 local veterans who each gave brief remarks about what serving in the Brigade meant to them.

Smith also reported on the progress made in raising funds to install a monument to the Brigade at Harry Bridges Plaza on San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

The monument, expected to be erected sometime in 2003, will be the third that has been erected in the U.S., including those in Seattle, Wa., and Madison, Wisconsin.