Dennis Kyne / www.denniskyne.com – 2005-03-27 10:24:10
From a distance I heard Drew Plummer say, “Hey, Dennis!” He was standing in the Porta Potty crowd, in the middle of a line that was on the end of ten lines that were already 20 people deep. It was 11 in the morning and it was packed; the rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina hadn’t even started. In the distance, musician Ralph Baldwin, a Vietnam veteran, kicked off the rally with a haunting song from his album, Hold Onto The Dream. I knew right then — and I get goose bumps as I write this — that I was in the right place, and this was definitely the right time.
The South Carolina Stop the War coalition marched in unannounced as the rally began. Buses from New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta and all points west arrived continuously, unloading people who walked onto the rally area and created a mass that organizers put at nearly 5,000 — far larger than the “small gathering” reported by some media outlets the following day. Organizer Lou Plummer said this was the biggest protest ever in Fayetteville.
The hot topic of the day was the simmering controversy over recent statements by Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Manhattan-based soldier advocacy group Operation Truth.
Rieckhoff, an Iraq war veteran and a favorite of media outlets from CNN to The New York Times, stated that protesting in Fayetteville represented, “the height of insensitivity by the anti-war organizations” due to its proximity to Fort Bragg, home to the 82nd Airborne.
Bebutting Rieckhoff’s Rhetoric
On Air America last week, he repeated the charge, getting into a heated argument with Unfiltered host Rachel Maddow. Aside from the insinuation that troops are trained with sensitivity, it is an incredible assumption to think that all troops on active duty are so dense they don’t know we are there in their interests. One could very easily infer from Rieckhoff’s rhetoric that we were there to spit and curse at the troops. But there were no cries of “babykillers” coming from this crowd. In fact, there was nothing but love for the sons and daughters sent to fight a war sold to the public on a lie.
Riechkhoff seems to forget that the organizations hosting this event were all family members of service members who have died in action or are currently serving. In addition, the organizations were made up of many veterans, people who have served in both peace and wartime.
Rieckhoff, who is not an active duty soldier, is currently a 1st Lieutenant in the New York State National Guard. Having spent fifteen years in the Army myself, from 1987 until 2003, including service as a medic on the frontlines of Operation Desert Storm, I can tell you, the only person insulting anyone is Rieckhoff.
Drew Plummer had just returned from the Navy the day before, having battled the machine long enough to know what it is doing to young women and men. Drew enlisted during his last year in high school, just three months before 9/11. He was released from his military obligations last week after a prolonged legal battle resulting from his exercise of the freedoms he supposedly was fighting to protect.
Home on leave, he had joined his father, Lou, at an anti-war vigil. When an Associated Press reporter asked his opinion on the war, Drew replied, “I just don’t agree with what we‚re doing right now. I don‚t think our guys should be dying in Iraq. But I’m not a pacifist. I’ll do my part.”
He paid the price. The Navy charged Drew with making disloyal statements, under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. At his hearing, he was asked if he “sympathizes” with the enemy or was considering “acts of sabotage” against the US military. He replied, no, and was convicted and demoted.
Ending the War ‘From the Inside’
Drew told me he had recognized early on that the war was waged under false pretenses. He said, “One of the ways to end war is resistance from the inside. We are making them aware with protests. Troops realize war is wrong sooner or later, and they start the moves to get out.” This is what Drew did, and he received more than 50 letters from around the country in support. He‚ll always be a hero to me.
So will Jose Couso, the slain journalist from Spain. Jose was hit by a US tank shell while inside the Palestine Hotel during the fall of Baghdad in April 2003. Everyone in the world knew the hotel was where the world‚s media was operating out of. His brother, David, traveled from Madrid to Fayetteville in his honor. With the aid of an interpreter, David told me, “It is the right thing to do, when it comes to struggle you have to go to them and invite them because it is open to everyone. This is not an issue of confrontation, this in issue of invitation, we invite everyone to come.”
The majority of the people who arrived were from places other than Fayetteville. That is not to say Fayetteville wasn’t alive, and Fort Bragg soldiers and their family members weren’t speaking out just as hard, if not harder, than the out-of-towners.
On the condition of anonymity, of course, having been told by commanders on Fort Bragg not to get anywhere near the protest or else risk being punished, there were members of the 82nd Airborne, both current and former present at the protests.
The 82nd Airborne is on a steady rotation to combat zones, and Ann Roesler, who was staying in her son Michael‚s apartment while he was off fighting, had something to say about Rieckhoff’s statement as well. “Michael is on his second rotation to Iraq with the 82nd. It is a crock of s*** what Rieckhoff says. Many of the troops I have spoken with don‚t believe in this war. What Rieckhoff’s doing is creating a hornets‚ nest, making things worse.”
I concur, so does Ward Reilly, of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, who traveled from Baton Rouge, Louisiana for the event. Ward, a major organizer of the Jazz Funeral For Democracy held in New Orleans earlier this year, said, “One thing that separates us from them is credibility. They [Operation Truth] have no credibility, what Rieckhoff is doing is straight Nixonian.
Dividing the Troops
Talk about telling the truth, the Winter Soldiers‚ testimony in 1971 was telling the truth, which led to the pulling of money for the war. What Rieckhoff is doing is participating in the division, knowing most likely that power divides each to conquer both.”
Many simply asked, “What the hell is Rieckhoff doing?” Responses from Military Families Speak Out, the “Gold Star” mothers and veterans of this current war and many wars past said that Rieckhoff, a young man who is more than likely loaded with good intentions, doesn’t have any idea what he is doing.
Rieckhoff wants to blame the White House and everyone else, when the fact is everyone is accountable to the truth. What truth is his operation telling? That the White House lied? Most people in Fayetteville knew that before Rieckhoff ever deployed to Iraq.
Kevin and Joyce Lucey were telling the truth as they spoke to the thousands of anti-war protesters. Kevin Lucey told of finding his son, Jeffrey, in the basement of their home strangled with a garden hose. Jeffrey, who was only 23, had left dog tags of two Iraqi soldiers he said he was forced to shoot unarmed on his bed. After hearing these remarkable parents, I was in tears ˆ so were many others.
Jeffrey‚s fate is similiar to many of the 11,000 Desert Storm veterans I served with who are now dead. As I climbed the stage, held the microphone, and told the crowd I wanted to have a cry, I had to remind myself and the thousands of listeners, “everyone in Fayetteville knows soldiers don’t cry.”
I spoke about depleted uranium and the fact that 18,500 Desert Storm Veterans are incarcerated for rape or violent crimes in our federal and state prisons. I mentioned these troops currently are coming home with something deeper than PTSD, it is Soldier’s Heart (WWI), Shell Shock (WWII), the 1,000 yard stare (Vietnam)? I asked, “What will they call it this war?”
As the crowd applauded and I left the stage, I was reminded that I was in the right place and it was the right time. It was the right thing, and no 1st Lieutenant in the United States military, still collecting money in a time of war, is going to pass himself off as truth-teller to me, or any of the thousands of anti-war protesters I shared the day with in Fayetteville on the second anniversary of an illegal invasion.
While Rieckhoff, and others, believe Fayetteville was the wrong place to protest; Drew Plummer, the Luceys and thousands of others were down south saying, “Bring Them Home Now, we don’t support an illegal war.” For most troops and their families, that is the only operational truth worth telling.
Dennis Kyne is a military veteran who served for fifteen years in the U.S. Army, and was a battlefield medic on the frontlines of Operation Desert Storm, where he saw first-hand the effects of Depleted Uranium weapons and PB Tablets. He is the author of the self-published memoir, Support the Truth, and a musician. For more info, see www.denniskyne.com.