Veterans unveil Iraq War memorial wall

SACRAMENTO – In an emotional ceremony followed by the playing of taps, members of Veterans for Peace unveiled a graphic, oversized “Iraq War Memorial Wall” next to the Vietnam War Memorial at the California State Capitol on March 21.

The wall, the brainchild of Pat Driscoll, founder of the Sacramento chapter of the organization, commemorates the thousands of lives lost and tens of thousands injured in the Iraq War. The wall is the first of its kind in the country, although other VFP chapters have held events exposing the cost of Bush’s war, including displays of empty boots and white crosses representing the U.S. military dead.

Driscoll’s display, made of poster-board panels in black wooden frames, features the names – and photos where available – of servicemen and servicewomen who have died in Iraq. As of the day of the unveiling, 582 U.S. soldiers had died there.

Also listed are the U.S. military wounded (3,300) or otherwise injured (7,000-10,000), and U.S. troop suicides (21), reflecting the highest rate of suicide in any U.S. war. The wall also lists Iraqi civilian deaths as 8,769-10,618 and civilian injured as 43,500-53,090.

Missing from the display – because of lack of good data – is an estimate of Iraq military deaths. However, Driscoll said his best estimate of the number of military dead was around 10,000.

“It’s a sad day that reminds me of my own service during the Vietnam War and the lies that war was built upon,” said Driscoll at the brief ceremony. “The Iraq War was also based on lies. Truth is the first casualty of war and the way we best honor the sacrifice of the troops is by honoring the truth.”

Driscoll said the Iraq Memorial Wall, after being displayed at the Capitol, will be brought to other cities and towns in California’s Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada foothills.

“The wall shows the true cost of war,” said Driscoll. “As veterans, we commit ourselves to the truth and doing something about it. When it’s time to vote, remember to cross the line between war and peace over to the side of peace.”

George Main, president of the VFP chapter, said the toll of the Iraq War is even higher when you consider the seven GIs who committed suicide after returning to the U.S. from the Iraq. In addition, he said, 478 soldiers have been shipped back to the states with mental illnesses, as so-called Section 8 cases.

“They are basically damaged goods and receive no support from the Bush administration when they return,” Main said.

Denise Christine, another VFP member, left the Air National Guard last year after 20 years of service. Referring to the surge in military recruitment after the 9/11 attacks, she said, “In my unit, many people signed up for the best intentions. Now they’re being used in an unjust war that is stirring up the forces that attacked the U.S. in the first place. The Bush administration’s policy in Iraq is symptomatic of a foreign policy that for a long time has given rise to terrorism.”

Driscoll and Christine both said that the war amounts to an effort to take the natural resources (oil) out of the country on the “pretext of getting a bad guy out of power.” Christine said that there are “at least a dozen tin-pot dictators oppressing and murdering their people in countries throughout the world,” but the Bush administration does not appear to be worried about them.

Referring to the demonstrations held throughout the world on the previous day and over the past year, Driscoll said, “It’s great to see this much resistance throughout the world in one year.”

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.