Thursday, February 24, 2005

Trauma of War

I met Debbie Lucey in Washington DC when the memorial was there. She said that when her brother Jeffrey returned from fighting in Iraq, he had to go through an intake process in the states. He was asked if he had seen any dead and who they were.

He answered that he has seen dead people. They kept refusing to discharge him and they kept asking the same question. He kept saying dead people.

Finally someone came by and said that if he wanted to get out, he would have to respond "dead soldiers."

Since he wanted to go to his sister's wedding, that's what he answered. A few months later he committed suicide, distraught over the fact that he had killed people.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Austin, Texas

Columnist Brad Buchholz wrote Sunday in the Austin Statesman:

"Zilker Park felt a lot like a grieving field last week. And though "Eyes Wide Open" is gone now ˜ packed up and on its way to Dallas ˜ the American Friends Service Committee's exhibit left us with an enduring gift.

In this divided America, there is something that unites us when it comes to the Iraq war, transcending red state or blue state, Republican or Democrat. It's the pull within all of us to grieve the dead."

An anthropological study of a Pacific Islander culture that was experiencing an exorbitant amount of suicides found that there was no word for grief in their vocabulary. So Brad's point about grief was right on target. We are in this nation, in less dramatic ways, destoying ourselves if we do not grieve and then act to stop this insanity of war.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

More Boots Given in Little Rock

We also were given a pair of boots from a Vietnam veteran, who had kept them in a closet for decades, perhaps waiting for just this occasion. Here is what he said at the press conference in Little Rock:

More than four decades ago, I left Little Rock for Parris Island, South Carolina. I was off to join the Marines, expecting exciting adventures and hoping to be of service.

After boot camp I was stationed in various parts of the United States, then in Japan and finally, in 1966, I was sent to Vietnam. When I arrived there, I was issued a .45 caliber pistol, a camera and these boots. Then I went to work. Every step of the way, through sand and mud, on helicopters and aircraft and jeeps and trucks, through fear and fellowship, these boots helped get me through. Then in 1967 the boots carried me home – back to civilian life. Three million of us served there. 58,233 of us died. No one really knows how many were physically injured. Most of the rest of us are damaged in secret, unspoken ways.

As I became a husband and a father, the boots stayed in the floor of my closet, year after year, a sturdy, silent reminder of those days. Through all the joys and sadness of life, through career changes and thousands of miles of relocation, these boots somehow were always along in a box somewhere, always finding a place on some closet floor. Just like the memories, they were always with me.

After coming home I joined the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Vietnam Veterans Organizing Committee, the Governor's Task Force on Veterans and finally the Veterans for Peace. When I heard that this exhibit was coming to Little Rock, I knew there was one more job to do.

Yes, these old boots served me well when I needed them. So I have brought them here today, on behalf of the Veterans for Peace, in hopes they might take their place in this exhibit. Our intention is not that they will represent another sacrifice by another American family although they might well serve that purpose. Our heartfelt wish is that these boots be taken as a reminder from those of us who been to war, that the only real answers, the only true resolution, the only real future, is in peace. The coward runs away, the soldier stays to fight, but the most courageous among us is the peacemaker who stands before the mighty engines of war, armed and shielded only by the belief that killing is wrong.

Gifts of Boots

Over the past month we have been blessed with the gifts of combat boots from the families of five soldiers who were killed in Iraq. These are such precious offerings from families who have lost so much.

These gifts reaffirm that this memorial, while it represents the death and loss of the Iraq War -- it really, at root, is a testament to life. It reaffirms the sacredness of life and reminds us that the loss of any human being is a tragedy.

The combat boots, worn by the fallen, now traveling with Eyes Wide Open bring to us anew that spirit of life.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Greensboro, NC

Greensboro was an incredible success as over 3,000 people viewed the memorial. One TV station shot live coverage at 5pm and 6pm one evening. The memorial was front page news with large photos and an editorial about Martin Luther King and Eyes Wide Open was printed on the front of the opinion page.

One anecdote shows the appreciation of the folks in Greensboro. Marq Anderson, our AFSC staff person who travels with the exhibit, was in a Greensboro coffee shop when he heard a whisper behind him, "That's the Eyes Wide Open guy." He got up to pay for his coffee and when he turned around fifteen people stood up and applauded.

More from National Cathedral

This comes from the clerk of the board of AFSC:

One woman told me she had come from Anchorage to DC and found the exhibit the only comforting experience she had had before and after the election. She is completely alone in her views, she said, so it meant everything to know she wasn't alone here. She then broke into tears, and we stood with our arms around ech other, amid the boots, for a couple of minutes. That must happen over and over again, as the exhibit travels.