Twenty-five people, most of them U.S. military veterans, were arrested while laying flowers at a war memorial in New York City Oct. 7. They were engaged in a peaceful vigil to honor those killed and wounded in war and to oppose the U.S. war in Afghanistan as it entered its 12th year.
The vigil was held at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in lower Manhattan and began with a program of music and speakers including Vietnam veteran Bishop George Packard, Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Chris Hedges, and Iraq combat veteran Jenny Pacanowski. At 8:30, the protesters began reading the names of the New York soldiers killed in Vietnam who are commemorated at the plaza and the military dead in Afghanistan and Iraq.
At 10:15 pm, the police informed the group that the park was officially closed and that if they remained they would be arrested. Many chose to continue reading names and laying flowers until they were handcuffed and taken away. One of the arrestees was Word War II Army combat veteran, Jay Wenk, 85, from Woodstock, NY.
The veterans had four aims:
- Demand an end to the 11-year war in Afghanista
- Demand an end to all U.S. wars of aggression
- Remember all those killed and wounded by war
- Stand up for our right, and duty, to assemble and organize
VFP board member Tarak Kaufff (center) reads names of soldier killed in Vietnam while flowers are laid ar Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza in New York City Oct. 7. At left is WWII veteran Jay Wenk, ringing a gong to mark the names. Both were arrested shortly after this photograph was taken.
Photojournalist, poet and Vietnam veteran Mike Hastie was the first arrested, after appealing to police not to force the veterans out of the war memorial: “This is a sad day. I was a medic in Vietnam. I watched soldiers commit suicide. I had soldiers’ brains all over my lap. How can you do this? How can you arrest me for being at a war memorial?”
Former VFP President Mike Ferner said, “I bet a lot of the arresting officers tonight were also military veterans; a number of them didn’t look too happy with the job they were told to do.”
“War is a public health problem, not only because of those killed directly, but also for the lingering trauma it causes,” said leading health care activist Dr. Margaret Flowers. “Ending war would be a good preventive health care measure.”
Poet Jenny Pacanowski read part of her poem “Parade,” which began “The funeral procession from Syracuse airport to Ithaca NY was over 50 miles long./Dragging his dead body through town after town of people, families and children waving flags./The fallen HERO had finally come home./I wonder how many children who saw this, will someday want to be dead HEROS too./I did not wave a flag that day or any day since my return.” She went on, “I live in a dream called my life. Where the good things don’t seem real or sustainable./I live in the nightmares of the past called Iraq and PTSD that never run out of fuel./Is it better to be dead hero?/Or a living fucked up, addicted, crazy veteran?”
“As long as we keep exposing the truth about these wars, then these people will not have died in vain,” said VFP board member Tarak Kauff.
Veterans For Peace was founded in 1985 and has approximately 5,000 members in 150 chapters across the U.S. VFP has official “Observer” status at the United Nations, and is the only national veterans organization calling for the abolition of war.