Charlie Liteky, a Vet Who Renounced his Medal of Honor to Become an Anti-war Activist
January 24, 2017 Veterans for Peace & Charlie Liteky / News Review & San Francisco Chronicle
Charlie Liteky passed away on January 20, 2017. Charlie, an Army chaplain in Vietnam, won the Medal of Honor for rescuing more than 20 wounded men but later returned the medal in protest and became a life-long peace activist. Charlie was a huge hero to many who knew him. Not only did he return his Medal of Honor, he also fasted for over 40 days with S. Brian Wilson, Duncan Murphy and George Mizo in 1986 on the steps of The Capitol Building in Washington to protest US policy in Central America.
Charlie Liteky, with his wife Judy Liteky, was an Army chaplain in Vietnam
Charlie Liteky: Presente! Veterans for Peace
(January 23, 2017) -- Charlie Liteky passed away on Friday, January 20th, 2017. Charlie was an Army chaplain in Vietnam who won the Medal of Honor for rescuing more than 20 wounded men but later gave it back in protest and became a life long peace activist.
Charlie was a huge hero to many who knew him in the Anti-War Movement. Not only did he give back his Medal of Honor (which was presented to him by President Lyndon Johnson for saving the lives of many soldiers in Vietnam) he also fasted for over 40 days with S. Brian Wilson, Duncan Murphy and George Mizo in 1986 on the steps of The Capitol Building in Washington DC -- in their: 'VETERANS FAST FOR LIFE' -- protesting US policy in Central America.
Charlie also participated many times for protesting 'The School of The Americas' (located at Fort Benning, Georgia) and was arrested and sent to prison for crossing the line at Fort Benning. Charlie was long-time friends with S. Brian Willson, Father Roy Bourgeois, David Hartsough and many others in the anti-war movement.
In 2003, he traveled to Baghdad with other peace activists to bear witness to the US war in Iraq. He published "An Open Letter to the US Military" in objection to the war. [You can read the letter below – EAW]
(May 7, 2003) -- By way of introduction, my name is Charlie Liteky, a US citizen, a Vietnam veteran, and a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. However, I renounced the Medal of Honor on July 29, 1986 in opposition to US foreign policy in Central America. What the US was supporting in El Salvador and Nicaragua, namely the savagery and domination of the poor, reminded me of what I was a part of in Vietnam 15 years earlier.
I placed the medal at the apex of the Vietnam Memorial Wall into which are etched the names of 58 thousand young American men. In depth study of the Vietnam War revealed political and military liars insensitive to the value of human life, inclusive of their own countrymen.
The biggest liar was the Commander in Chief of US armed forces, President Lyndon Johnson, who lied to Congress about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. It was this lie that motivated Congress to vote the money for the war. As a veteran of an ill-fated war, in the waning years of my life, I'd like to share some reflections on my country's attack on Iraq.
Once again, I find myself in protest of a US military action that no court in the world will declare legal. The US attack on the sovereign country of Iraq fails to meet any of the necessary provisions of a just war. Iraq on the other hand, met the most fundamental condition for a country to use military force against an adversary, namely the defense of its homeland against an unjust aggressor. But, because of the incredible superiority of the US military, there was no possibility of a successful defense.
In its attack on Iraq, the US violated the UN Charter, international law and universal standards of morality. This is borne out by the worldwide condemnation of the US attack by mainstream religious denominations and spiritual leaders.
Claiming liberation of the Iraqi people as a just cause for a war that kills thousands of innocents is hypocrisy at its worst. If liberation of an oppressed people were the real motive behind the invasion of Iraq -- why did the US wait 25 years to act?
Why did the US refrain from condemning Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons in its war with Iran in the 80s? Why did the US fail to prevent chemicals critical to the production of biological weapons from reaching Iraq? How is it that what we condemn today we approved yesterday?
Many Iraqi people rejoiced at the sight of their American/British liberators, but many more did not, because they had no legs to walk to the sites of celebration, no arms to wave in jubilation or they had no life left to celebrate. The sanitary military term for such people is "collateral damage."
I first came to Iraq in November of 2002 in response to the bellicose words of war coming from the President of the US and his staff. When I think of children, the most vulnerable of the innocents, in my imagination I could hear them crying, I could see the terror in their eyes and faces as they heard the planes overhead, followed by bombs exploding. I wanted to be with them to offer what small comfort I could.
This cartoon [of a sly, American eagle with its talons deeply planted in Iraqi earth] published in the Jordan Times on April 23, 2003 depicts what many Arab people believe is the US motivation behind its attack on Iraq, namely, a deep-rooted, long-lasting presence. Recently, newspapers have reported that plans are underway to establish four military bases in Iraq.
What the cartoon does not include is the US interest in and access to Iraq's immense oil reserves. A two-time Medal of Honor recipient, General Smedley Butler, said that "War is a Racket" and that he spent his 33 year military career being a bodyguard for US business interests. I submit that protecting US business interests, sometimes referred to as "national interests" is still the primary mission of the US military. Wartime profits go to a select few at the cost of many.
Again to quote Gen. Smedley: "War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
"A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes."
This letter containing some of my reflections is not meant to cast blame for an attack on Iraq on US military personnel. I'm sure you believe that what you are a part of is right and just. I once believed the same of my participation in the Vietnam War. I share my thoughts and conclusions as gifts of truth revealed to me through years of studying US foreign policy.
Charlie Liteky, Vietnam veteran
P.S.: God be with you in your search for truth, your quest for justice, and your efforts to help a beautiful people.
(January 22, 2017) -- Charlie Liteky, a former Army chaplain who received a Medal of Honor for carrying more than 20 wounded soldiers to safety in Vietnam but later renounced the award as a bold protest against U.S. foreign policy, died Friday. He was 85.
A resident of San Francisco, Mr. Liteky had been a relentless champion for peace for decades, winning respect not only in antiwar circles during the Cold War and ensuing American conflicts in the Middle East but also from onetime colleagues and admirers in the military.
At a protest outside a training base in Fort Benning, Ga., where Mr. Liteky twice was sent to prison for his pacifist acts, Army paratroopers and Navy commandos were said to come outside the gates on occasion to meet Mr. Liteky and thank him for his service.
"He was a person who took his beliefs and his values very seriously," said longtime friend David Hartsough of San Francisco. "If you love your neighbor and your neighbor is getting beat up, he did something about it. He believed that people in Central America and people in Vietnam and people all over the world were his friends and family."
Mr. Liteky's decorated military service began in 1966, six years after being ordained a Catholic priest in Mentone, Ala. A child of a military family that had lived in such spots as Washington, D.C., Hawaii and Florida, he answered a call from the Army for chaplains, a job that thrust him into the center of the Vietnam War.
"I was 100 percent behind going over there and putting those Communists in their place," Mr. Liteky told The Chronicle in 2000. "I had no problems with that. I thought I was going there doing God's work."
His most celebrated moment came in December 1967, when his company came under enemy attack in the Bien Hoa province. Mr. Liteky dragged more than 20 of his fellow servicemen who were injured in the gunfight to a medevac helicopter landing zone where they could be rescued.
For his actions, President Lyndon Johnson honored Mr. Liteky a year later with the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for service in combat.
When Mr. Liteky left the Army in 1971, his sights turned elsewhere. He quit the priesthood, citing problems with church doctrine and celibacy, and eventually moved to San Francisco, where he got work at the Veterans Administration Hospital. He met his future wife, Judy Balch, a former nun who was active in social issues, in the city.
The two became partners in promoting peace, a journey that brought Mr. Liteky to some of the world's most war-torn areas as well as back to Washington, D.C. On the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1986, he engaged in a hunger strike to protest the Reagan administration's military policy in Latin America and support of Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
That July, he famously gave back his Medal of Honor, putting it and a letter to President Ronald Reagan at the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. With that, he renounced the award's benefits, which included a tax-free pension of $600 a month.
The medal was retrieved by the National Park Service and later put on display at the National Museum of American History.
"There were people who were angry with what he was doing," said friend Bob Frank of San Francisco. "But he was really unassuming. . . . I would watch him talk down (his critics) and find some common ground. I was amazed at how peaceful he was."
Mr. Liteky later joined protests at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga., a training camp for U.S. military operatives in Latin America. The facility is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
In June 2000, he was convicted of trespassing on the base and given the maximum sentence of one year in prison at the Federal Correctional Institution at Lompoc, about 60 miles north of Santa Barbara.
"We're doing acts of civil disobedience in the tradition of our democracy," he said after his sentencing. "This has been going on for a long time. And in going to prison, I'm drawing attention to the issue. I'm happy with his ruling."
He had served six months for a similar crime a decade earlier.
Over the past 10 years, Mr. Liteky had been working on a book, "Renunciation," that chronicled his life from war hero to peace activist. Friends said they expect the book will be published in the next few months.
Mr. Liteky's health worsened in recent years, and in late 2016 he was admitted to the hospice unit at the Veterans Administration Hospital. Friends say the longtime resident of the city's Sunnyside neighborhood died Friday night.
Mr. Liteky's wife, Judy, died in August. The couple did not have children.
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