“That’s Cindy Sheehan,” points the Vietnam War veteran from his seat at the table. “She lost her son Casey in Iraq. And I’m going to follow her to Crawford. You coming?”
Looking up from my plate, I take the vet’s direction and turn to see Sheehan standing on the grass, stage left, mixing with three generations of veterans who have gathered this evening for peace and Bar-B-Que.
Twenty-four-year-old Casey Sheehan was killed at Sadr City on April 4, 2004 during the historic uprising (16 months ago to the day). Cindy blames the President for “creating that insurgency by his failed policies,” and on Saturday morning she is going to attempt to visit Bush at his vacation ranch in Crawford, a couple hours’ drive to the South.
The vet I’m sitting with was born and raised in California. His tan slim face looks perfectly fit for Hollywood, the place where he was born. After High School he joined the Army to see Japan and Hong Kong.
“If you’ve ever been in a war situation,” says the vet, “imagine what it must be like to find out while it’s still going on. That they lied. While you were into it.” He looks at me directly, shakes his head slowly, and digs at some food on his plate. He’s talking about the Downing Street memo, and he references AfterDowningStreet.Org.
“And as for Karl Rove,” says the vet, “in boot camp they used the word traitor. Loose lips sink ships. He’s just spitting in everyone’s face.” Rove, the so-called brain of the Bush regime, has been widely identified as the most likely source for the public ‘outing’ of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
“Saturday I’m going,” says the vet again, talking about Sheehan’s plan to confront the President at Crawford. “I’m going to follow her down there.” And you can tell by the slight grin on his face that he’s proud to have the opportunity. This is the 20th Annual convention of Veterans for Peace, and tonight this big, wide tent is a swirl of activists in motion.
A few minutes later we are joined at the table by Susan Van Haitsma, a peace activist and writer from Austin. And the vet tells her, too. He’s going to Crawford Saturday with Cindy Sheehan.
“Have you read Sheehan’s book about visiting the President?” asks Van Haitsma. “Bush comes walking into the room saying, ‘Well, who are we here to honor today?’ Sheehan says it was like looking at someone who was vacant inside.”
Meanwhile our ample round table has been joined by three more vets, John Perth of South Jersey, Bob Heberle of Minneapolis, and Robert Moses Hunt of (where else?) Hunstville, Alabama. Sam Foster from the Twin Cities sits with us briefly as he makes the rounds.
As it turns out, Hunt’s great grandfather was part of the Confederate Army, but since he refused to carry a gun, he was ordered to drive supplies instead. And, as the story goes, one day by a river near Decatur, the Yankees fired a cannonball at his wagon and missed. So he got down off the wagon, picked up the cannon ball, waved, and drove off. Hunt remembers seeing that cannonball as a kid, prior to great-grandfather’s death in 1928.
And while we’re on the subject of Dixie pacifists, at the archives of Alabama online you can find a record of “The Incident at Looney’s Tavern, ” a musical tale of romance and heartbreak involving a schoolteacher named Christopher Sheats who in 1861 was elected by the folks of Winston County to go to Montgomery and vote against the damn war. According to the archives he ended up in prison. But Hunt is not forgetting to tell the story here tonight.
What’s important about the story, says Hunt, is that the people of Alabama were not all that eager to start a war in the first place. History is a push and a pull. The closer you get to it, says Hunt, the more you can see how, “it all hangs by a thread!” Here under a big tent overlooking Dallas, three generations of veterans have gathered to blow the embers of a Dixie pacifist revival. Could it be a thing that catches fire?
The Vietnam vet is happy to see how young veterans from Iraq today have a place to meet and talk to people. “When we came back from Vietnam, nobody could talk to you,” he says. “Your best friend couldn’t talk to you. My parents wouldn’t talk to me. Then ten years later, my parents decided they wanted to talk to me about Vietnam, but I’m not talking about it. I’m sick of it.”
The Vietnam vet was there in ‘70-’71, late in terms of the number of years that the war lasted, but right where the fat part of the wall starts if you’re reading names of people you know at the Washington DC memorial. “Right about the middle of the wall, that’s where my friends are.” He lifts a finger to touch the names in the air.
“I can see it on the young guys’ faces,” says the Vietnam vet, looking at their war from inside out. As he heads back home for the night, he asks again, “You coming to Crawford?”
Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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