Today we're going to a Peace rally / anti-war tabling at Taos Plaza with our Eddie Richardson Chapter Taos Veterans for Peace group. Veteran's Day and Memorial Day are in my earliest memories; I've been long cognizant of Veteran's issues. My husband is a Vietnam Vet, my father is a Vietnam Vet, my brother is a Gulf War vet, my grandfather and uncle are WW2 Veterans. A great uncle died as a WW1 Infantryman. I'm honored to know so many who have served and sacrificed; I am grateful.
When I was a kid I lived on an Army base in Hawaii, when my Dad went to war in Vietnam. We made flower leis to hang on the headstones of soldiers' graves. It was during the days of singing "Where have all the flowers gone?" and it made a lasting impact. I wrote about some of the Veterans in my life in this article:
Life is Precious (with permission from The Horsefly)
My husband and I were honored to attend the memorial service for Taos peace activist Sarah Battreall as a contingent from Veterans For Peace. As a veteran of the US Army’s prestigious Berlin Brigade, Sarah had been a member of Veterans For Peace, as well as a real gold star mom and amazing supporter of the troops. She ended her life in July having never found relief from the pain of losing her son, SPC Robert O’Connor who served two tours in the Iraq war.
Sarah’s dedication to serving the troops and their families in wartime will be sorely missed. She could always be called upon whenever the local National Guard unit needed assistance. She happily set out to deliver last Thanksgiving’s prize turkeys to families, only to find out later her son shot himself. Suicides amongst active duty military are at their highest rates in 16 years, and the deaths of returning vets are not even counted. Neither group is added to the official number of war casualties.
Robert served with the 10th Mountain Division and worked as an Army recruiter after returning from Iraq. He had originally enlisted to take part in his family’s tradition of military service. As Sarah explained at a peace rally marking the first anniversary of the Iraq war, "Robert does his job well, but he doesn’t believe in Bush’s military empire." Yet he loved the Army and talked of joining Special Forces. Fellow combat vets like my husband say the rush of battle lures soldiers to volunteer for multiple tours, but the thrill is difficult to find after they’re home from war.
I recently spoke with my brother and father, both veterans. My brother Blase Leven, a Captain in the 1st Infantry Division during the Gulf War in 1991, thought long and hard about joining what was then a peacetime Army. Both he and my father, Andy, a Vietnam vet, went through Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) in college and ended up being deployed to war several years later. With the draft in 1954, Dad felt enrolling in ROTC would give him a better life as an officer and he might get a commission after graduating. Captain Andy Leven went away to Saigon as a photo-image interpreter when I was in kindergarten.
Blase enrolled in ROTC during the Reagan years, but before signing up, he considered whether or not he could support whatever president and leadership might come along. He intended to do his job as a soldier in service to his country, and didn’t want to be involved in frivolous wars with foolish leadership. Brother Blase advised, "It’s so important for anybody thinking about joining the military to develop a conscience and some good judgment beforehand, because you’re not just signing up for a paycheck." One of his duties as General Supply Officer during Desert Storm was to escort the remains of American dead from the field.
As part of the Advance Party of 12, Blase was in charge of setting up the infrastructure for the supply network ahead of 22,000 troops massing to breach Iraqi lines. When US coalition forces finally drove through they met fierce but sparse resistance. The combat engineers’ armored vehicles with mine-clearing explosive charges and plow/roller tanks had pushed through first, pulverizing and bull-dozing everything in their path, much of which was already devastated by intensive aerial bombing. The burning wreckage, deadly destruction, and hordes of fleeing refugees, gave Blase a lasting impression of the impact of war: "Life is so precious. The president has the power of war, and must be absolutely certain it is really necessary; because lots of people will die or be harmed forever, mostly innocent, just caught in the middle."
Both my brother and father listened as retired General Colin Powell gave a compelling speech at the UN to make the case for war, and are disappointed he participated in leading troops and the country into war on false pretenses. For many, Powell was the only credible member of the Bush administration, and thus the most effective recruiter for war. Yet while presenting the evidence, he failed to point out UN Weapons Inspectors had been on the ground in Iraq, checking the potential weapons factories and stockpiles. They consistently found no WMD, no real reason to go to war to disarm Saddam.
Andy added the disturbing fact, "President Bush did not listen to his experienced military commanders who advised against invading. Then to make it worse, they’ve bungled the operation at every step." Blase noted, "You have to be willing to go all out if you decide to go to war, so you better have a solid reason." Committing to war has to be worth the cost of all the casualties counted and uncounted, the turmoil and destruction, and lives forever altered.