WASHINGTON – Behind a banner that read, “Bring The Troops Home Now,” and carrying upside down American flags as a signal of distress, war veterans and families of active duty soldiers marched on the White House March 23 to protest George W. Bush’s pre-emptive war on Iraq.

The three-day protest was called “Operation Dire Distress” and evoked memories of “Dewey Canyon II” the encampment in Washington of Vietnam Veterans Against the War 30 years ago.

Some leaned on canes, limping from wounds sustained in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf War. A squadron of mounted police blocked the vets from walking near the Vietnam Memorial, but a delegation took a wreath to lay in memory of the 59,000 U.S. soldiers who died there. The vets then marched behind a bagpiper past the World War II memorial under construction and on to the Korean War memorial to lay a second wreath.

As they marched within shouting distance of the White House, David Cline, president of Veterans for Peace led a defiant chant: “Hey, hey, Uncle Sam, we remember Vietnam. Bush and Cheney talk war-talk, but we know they’re chicken hawks. Bring our troops back to our soil. We say NO blood for oil. “

A delegation was sent to the White House gates to deliver a petition to Bush signed by 2,662 veterans condemning his attack on Iraq as “illegal, unnecessary, and counterproductive,” and warning that the war is a “dire threat to our vital international interests and basic national security.” White House police refused to accept the petition.

Jaime Vazquez wore his olive drab Marine tunic with nearly a dozen combat medals pinned to it including the Purple Heart and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. Vazquez, now Jersey City’s Deputy Mayor for International Affairs, served in Vietnam with the First Marine Division from 1967-68. “I was hit with 70 pieces of shrapnel,” Vazquez told the World as he marched. “I still have eight or nine pieces of metal buried inside me.

“I learned one lesson: to struggle for peace and understanding,” Vazquez continued. “I think we rushed into this war on Iraq. We have lost all the goodwill around the world that we got from the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Anybody who doesn’t believe this is a war for oil and global power is deluding himself.”

Vasquez blasted Bush for proposing a $25 billion cut in veterans benefits. “They send us to war when they need us and when we come home we have to fight our own government,” he said. “It took them 15 years to recognize that Agent Orange was causing health problems for Vietnam veterans. Just this week, 300,000 veterans lost their medical benefits because of cuts instituted by President Bush. “Operation Desert Storm, he pointed out, was sold as a splendid victory with only 293 G.I.s killed. But since then, 10,400 Gulf War vets have died prematurely from Gulf War Syndrome and exposure to depleted uranium. “The toll is so heavy that in Jersey City, a new monument will be dedicated this Memorial Day called the ‘Hidden Casualties Memorial,’” he said.

Frank Ackles, Jr. carried one end of the Veterans for Peace banner. He served with the Marines in Vietnam from 1968-70. “My best friend, Lance Corporal Steven Warren Boegli died there, “Ackles said. “I went to the Vietnam Memorial today and found his name on the wall. He was just an innocent soul who ran into a landmine and was killed.” Ackles works as a counselor for the homeless in St. Louis Mo. “On any given night, there are 250,000 homeless veterans sleeping on the streets of America,” he said. “Most of them are Vietnam vets.”

Daniel Ellsberg, famed for releasing the Pentagon Papers exposing the lies used to drag the U.S. into the Vietnam war, walked with the veterans. He told the World that, once again, “they are lying to us about the reasons for this war. Their real reason for invading Iraq is oil.”

Cherie Rankin was dressed in the Red Cross uniform she wore as a nurse in Vietnam. “We decimated the population of a very beautiful country,” she said. “I feel very intense grief for our soldiers, their families and for all the Iraqi people.”

Gene Glazer of New Jersey, a medic in Europe during World War II said, “We were fighting fascism then. We are here today to stop the Bush agenda of world domination. We’re already being primed for the next war: Iran, North Korea, wherever Bush wants to go. This is not the American way. My America is a defender of democracy. Today we are the aggressor. I wear a black armband in mourning for my country.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

PDF version of ‘Vets tell Bush: Bring troops home’