Veterans Day vigils spotlight costs of war

WASHINGTON – Veterans for Peace held a vigil outside Walter Reed U.S. Army Hospital on Veterans Day and reported to the media of their visit with wounded soldiers, demanding that all U.S. troops be brought home from Iraq alive and well.

Ellen Barfield, vice president of Veterans for Peace (VFP), who served in the U.S. Army from 1977 to 1981, told the crowd near the main gate of the hospital, “They are keeping secret how many wounded there really are. They showed us just two yesterday.” She reported that VFP arranged for four of its members to visit the “dreadfully wounded” soldiers at Walter Reed a day earlier. They took with them gift baskets with books, videos, and candy. An estimated 8,000 wounded soldiers are being treated here and at other military hospitals across the U.S. and around the world.

“Congress approved $87 billion for this war, money taken from programs that meet human needs, including benefits for veterans of the war,” she said. “It is too expensive both in morality and wasted lives. Here at Walter Reed, we are demanding that they take care of these soldiers when they come home.”

Pat McCann, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, denounced the Pentagon for deducting $8.10 a day for food from the pay of hospitalized soldiers in the name of curbing “double-dipping.” The outrage at deducting soldiers’ food allowance from their paychecks, because hospitals are providing food, was so intense the Pentagon has since stopped the practice.

McCann assailed the White House for closing veterans’ hospitals and slashing veterans’ benefits. “There are eight wounded for every one who dies,” he said. “And two-thirds of them are amputees.”

The Bush administration, obsessed with winning a second term for Bush-Cheney, treats like classified information the numbers of wounded. “It is all about keeping these costs hidden, the wounded invisible,” McCann told the crowd. “Neither on Veterans Day nor any other day are we going to let them make our soldiers invisible.”

The crowd lined Georgia Avenue in front of the hospital for a daylong protest, one of more than 20 “Bring Them How Now” vigils at military bases and hospitals across the nation on Veterans Day.

John Oliver, a hospice chaplain from Baltimore and a Vietnam-era U.S. Air Force veteran, said he arranged the visit with the wounded soldiers. “What struck me is how young they are, hardly older than my own sons,” he told the crowd.

Both soldiers are now recovering, but it took 47 transfusions to save one of them. The other lost a leg below his knee.

“The physical and emotional trauma is what we are facing here,” Oliver said. “I thought of how many Iraqi citizens are wounded and dying without the benefit of a modern, state of the art facility like this.”

Cameron Barron, an African American vet, said, “Congress made the choice to spend $87 billion for an illegal war when our infrastructure is in disrepair, there is unemployment and underemployment and people are forced to choose between prescription drugs and food.”

He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s warning that a nation that spends more on weapons of war than on the needs of the poor “is approaching spiritual death.”

McCann told the World of his deep anger at the scheming by the Bush administration to hide the dead and wounded, ordering the television media not to broadcast images of body bags or caskets, flying them home in the dark of night. “And for those soldiers who are alive, they cut their benefits while Halliburton and those other Bush cronies are getting billions in no-bid contracts from the Pentagon. It is an abomination.”

Barfield said she was pleased to be able to visit the wounded soldiers, present them with gifts and wish them a speedy recovery. “Really they are so young. They are being thrown into a meat grinder to kill or be killed by old men who are pushing an agenda that has nothing to do with our safety or security.”

In Philadelphia, over 200 gathered in front of City Hall in an event sponsored by VFP, peace, labor, and women’s groups. Speakers included Michael Hoffman, who spoke about his experiences in a Marine artillery battery in war-devastated Iraq this spring, and Art Dougherty, president of the Postal Workers Union. Dougherty brought greetings from the Central Labor Council and urged the crowd to “honor all who died in war – Iraqis and Americans.” Linda Dann, the mother of a current Army reservist, said she fears for her son’s life and the lives of all the troops.

VFP released a statement that said in part, “The truth is coming out. The American public was deceived by the Bush administration. … Our troops are embroiled in a hopeless regional quagmire. These military actions are not perceived as liberations but as occupations and our troops are subject to daily attacks. … Without just cause for war, we say bring the troops home now!”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com. Rosita Johnson contributed to this article.