BY CHANTE WOLF
I agonize over Memorial Day. I despise the fly-overs, 21-gun salutes, barbecues and blowout sales that make it all seem so cheap and so easy to forget until next year. I want to throw up, sob, run away and hide. Then comes the anger over our never-ending wars and never-ending deaths, and I don’t know what to do next.
So, instead of shopping, I want to remember those who died in the military during my time in the Air Force, 1980 to 1992:
Two Airmen who were murdered and buried behind their Security Police Squadron after they turned in most of their squadron members for doing drugs.
My friend Carmen, a Spanish woman who sat next to me at the switchboard in Zaragoza, AB, Spain, who was beaten to death with a champagne bottle and dumped into the Ebro River by her USAF MSgt. Boyfriend.
SrA. Armstrong, who was on guard duty at the front gate late one night and put his M-16 in his mouth.
TSgt. Wilson, who sat in his idling car with a hose running from the muffler into the back seat.
My friend Sgt. Ben Andrews and 15 others, who died when their C-130 plowed into the side of Mt. Moncayo in Spain.
My friend SSgt. Betty Holms and two other sergeants, who were killed when a Spanish military bus filled with drunk soldiers flipped into the air and landed on three cars of U.S. military members driving in to work. Betty managed to use her body to shield her 3-year-old daughter, saving her life.
My friend SrA. Claude Atman, who attempted suicide only to die later of cancer.
My hearing of the deaths of 28 and wounding of over 100 U.S. Reservists in Dhahran during Desert Storm. Later learning that our smart bombs killed over 1,200 Iraqi women and children in a shelter.
My friend TSgt. George Simmons in Desert Storm, who died from cancer, most probably due to his exposure to oil smoke and depleted uranium after he went into Kuwait. He had four daughters.
And of my family: My cousin Stevie, who served two combat tours in Vietnam and killed himself just after I joined the Air Force. My uncle Bud, who was a paratrooper during WWII and drank himself to death. And my father, who dropped dead of a massive heart attack in 2009; he served in the Navy during the Korean War. His crew was conducting boat boarding missions off of South Africa and came upon a hostile boat crew. His unit killed everyone on board. He never spoke of it nor wore an Ace of Spades on any of his baseball caps, either.
And now to remember a few recent deaths:
Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Lourey KIA in Iraq, 2005. He was the son of former MN Senator Becky Lourey.
Andy Pelecis, a Vietnam veteran who killed himself in 2002 after a long battle with depression. His daughter Mara created a documentary about him called “Souvenirs, Healing After the War.”
Lance Cpl. Jeff Lucey, who was ordered to shoot two unarmed Iraqi prisoners. Scared to death, shaking, he hesitated because they were his age. The order came again and he complied. Afterwards he took their dog tags and brought them home with him. Anguished, angry and telling his sister that he was a murderer, he hung himself with a garden hose in the basement of his parents house on June 22, 2004.
Army Spc. Alyssa Peterson, who killed herself by gunshot in 2003 after refusing to participate any further in torture as an Arabic translator at Abu Ghraib, Iraq.
Cpl. Pat Tillman, killed by fratricide, April 22, 2004. The Army first reported that he died in a hail of gunfire from the enemy. Lt. General Stanley McChrystal approved Tillman’s award of the Silver Star. Tillman was going to speak out against both occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had also participated in the staged rescue of Jessica Lynch.
Colonel Theodore Westhusing, who killed himself by gunshot June 5, 2005, and left the following suicide note to his commanding officer, General Petraeus: “… you are only interested in your career and provide no support to your staff, no msn [mission] support and you don’t care. I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human rights abuses and liars … All my love to my family, my wife and my precious children. I love you and trust you only. … Trust is essential; I don’t know who to trust anymore. Why serve when you cannot accomplish the mission, when you no longer believe in the cause, when your every effort and breath to succeed meets with lies, lack of support and selfishness? … ”
If war really worked, then why do we still build more memorials, expand veterans’ cemeteries and study about it so much in schools, universities and think-tanks? Isn’t it time to build shrines for the peacekeepers, study good communication skills and work diligently on reconciliation instead?
Reprinted from the Veterans for Peace newsletter, Summer 2014.