Sunday, April 23, 2006

Remembering the Fallen

A Veteran’s Iraq war vigil (in Juneau)

By Rich Moniak, for The Whalesong

According to the calendar, March 20 is the first day of spring. The season evokes images of flowers, trees budding, and the songs of birds adding a pleasing melody to drift along in the warm air. But to the several people standing in a circle at the Dimond Court Plaza, the cold gray Juneau weather joined a flag-draped coffin at the foot of the stairs to reveal the solemn reason for their gathering.

It was only 6:15 in the morning as John Dunker spoke into a hand-held microphone. It sent his voice beyond the snow and slush covered plaza. His thin gray beard and wire-rimmed glasses escaped the edges of his bulky winter clothing. Though his appearance and quiet tone didn’t command attention, the idea of paradox leaned forward between the odd mixture of fierce focus and sadness. He was reading.

Sergeant Daniel J. Londono, 22, Boston, Massachusetts. PFC Joel K. Brittain, 21, Santa Anna, California. Staff Sergeant Joe L. Dunigan Jr., 37, Belton Texas.

The casket was empty. The names being read were of soldiers who have died during the Iraq war. The group was comprised primarily of veterans, each claiming a uniquely silent bond to those who serve the current call to duty. The vigil honoring the fallen commemorated the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, not only in protest to this war, but a call to question the merit of any and all wars.

In the mid-60s Dunker spent a year in Vietnam, before the peak of US involvement in the two decades-long war that took the lives of more than 58,000 American soldiers. He says that when he returned from combat he felt inclined to show an opposition to the war, but struggled with finding a meaningful focus to do so. But today he is certain of his role in speaking out.

What is the nature of the 40-year-old memories that instills such a conviction? Are they standing next to the briefly spoken names of the men and women who can’t return home to wonder about their place after the war?

When Dunker finished reading a page of 25 names, Ed Hein, another vet, gently struck a Buddha bowl, sending a solo note to momentarily pierce the still air. As the vibration faded, the book of names was passed to KJ Metcalf. His coarse voice caught the same steady cadence that flowed from Dunker.

PFC Nichole M. Frye, 19, Lena, Wisconsin. Specialist Michael M. Merila, 23, Sierra Vista, Arizona. Specialist Christopher M. Taylor, 25, Daphne, Alabama.

Metcalf was in Germany in the fall of 1956 when the Soviet Union sent tanks into Hungary to crush an uprising against the Communist dictatorship. US troops were poised for battle. The Hungarian revolt coincided with the brief war between Israel and Egypt over the Suez Canal, and both superpowers had threatened to reach into their nuclear arsenals as the conflict escalated. Ever since, Metcalf believes there must be a better way than turning to the
military for solutions to conflicts between nations.

What images that never materialized into a physical event but struck a distinctly dark fear is he remembering 50 years later? Would some of these soldiers follow his footsteps if given the chance to remember what almost happened had their last battle not been fought?

Again and again the bowl rings, as each person in the group passes the black book along. Morning continues to arrive. A few more cars pass by, and the occasional pedestrian attempts to negotiate the snow covered sidewalks. State maintenance workers shovel snow from the Capitol steps. A four-wheel ATV with a plow attached pushes mounds of snow across the plaza, briefly upsetting the rhythm of the group. They move off to the side and resume, the cadence of names in the air unchanged.

Staff Sergeant Thomas W. Christensen, 42, Atlantic Mine, Michigan. Staff Sergeant Stephen C. Hattamer, 43, Gwinn, Michigan. Captain Christopher J. Splinter, 43, Platteville, Wisconsin.

Sunlight can’t penetrate the clouds and brighten the morning. The gray mood prevails and the drizzle continues. The comings and goings increase around the plaza. The street noise begins to alter the quiet.

Specialist Aaron R. Clark, 20, Chico, California. PFC Ray J. Hutchinson, 20, League City, Texas. Specialist Ryan C. Young, 21, Corona, California.

Business as usual reclaims a Monday morning in Juneau. Except at the Dimond Court Plaza, where a few men and women read, sound a chime, and pass on to the next a 93-page book of names as the light rain falls. Occasionally a few drops rolled down the plastic sleeve that keeps the paper dry. Maybe the pages are shedding tears for the 2314 souls who will never again know a Monday morning, snow, rain, or those places where in spring the flowers bloom.

Juneau Vets for Peace Speak Up

Chapter 100, Juneau, Alaska, April 17, 2006

We are disappointed by the Murkowski Administration’s complete silence in response to this summer’s announced “call-up” of elements of the Alaska National Guard for service in Iraq and Afghanistan. As reported in the Empire and elsewhere, this call-up reaches into the very heart of rural Alaska, to small and remote communities that can ill afford even the temporary absence of community and family leaders and subsistence providers. And it won’t be just their home communities that feel the absence; as Alaskans, residents of a disaster-prone state subject to natural upheavals such as earthquakes, floods, and wildfires, we can collectively ill afford the loss.

We are aware of the Federal supremacy in these matters and understand that the Governor lacks legal authority to simply refuse to deploy the Guard. However, the Governor is not without authority; at the very least, we would ask that he be an advocate for our state and challenge the deployment. Grounds for opposing the call-up would include (but not necessarily be limited to):

 Concern that the purpose of the call-up is to support the continuing U.S. mission in Iraq, even though that morally dubious war of aggression has been demonstrated to be premised on manufactured intelligence, and lacks the support of the American people;

 Concern that the absence of these Alaska Guard members could leave the state vulnerable as we approach the flooding and wild fire seasons; and,

 Concern that the loss of even a very few of these fine young adults in some of the far-flung Alaska villages could have a devastating impact on the social and economic structures of those communities.

Even if the Governor opts to take no steps to challenge the deployment, we ask that, as their “Commander-in-Chief,” he undertake the following steps before authorizing the transfer to active duty status:

 Require the Guard to develop a plan to indemnify the communities from which the Guard members will be drawn, in order to minimize the disruption to the economic and social fabric of those communities;

 Require the Guard to insure that a full physical examination of each Guard member is undertaken both before, and following, their deployment in order to protect and detect any illness resulting from the deployment (including, e.g., prolonged exposure to Depleted Uranium munitions);

 Require the Guard to fully inform its members of their rights to resist deployment to address personal imperatives (family needs, etc.) and how to exercise their rights to avoid combat duty if their consciences so demand; and,

 Require assurances from the Defense Department that, in the event of a natural or manmade disaster, Alaska’s manpower needs will be met through either repatriating the deployed Alaska Guard members or providing alternative support.

In January, in Iraq, Alaska’s Guard suffered the tragic loss of “ICY-33” with 4 ANG crew members and 8 passengers. Although we truly honor the service of those who were lost, we question the legitimacy of their mission. Under these circumstances, it is even more important for our leaders to stand up and to stake out a firm position to protect Alaska from the tragic consequences of the Bush Administration’s capricious use of our state’s important military assets.

Philip J. Smith, President
Veterans for Peace, Chapter 100

[Philip Smith is a 63-year resident of Alaska and a veteran of the U.S. Army (1964 – 1967)]

Monday, April 03, 2006 More Calls for Rumsfeld to Leave

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WASHINGTON   | April 3, 2006
More Calls for Rumsfeld to Leave
For the second time in two weeks, a former general has called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

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