UPDATED 11-9-2006: With the newly announced resignation of Defense Secreatary Donald Rumsfeld, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will become the central focus for Colorado’s Congressional delegation in the coming days.
A band of young people chanting “1-2-3-4. We don’t want your bloody war. 5-6-7-8. Stop the violence, stop the hate” stood in stark contrast with the quiet resolve of West Point Graduates Against the War.
Retired Army Capt. Joe Sharrock a 1997 West Point graduate who did a tour in Iraq said “This war is illegitimate. It’s not going well and we’ve got to change the course.” Sharrock, who was not politically involved prior to the war, said “I want people to know we’re not all flower children. My conscience brought me here.”
Sharrock’s wife, Shannon, a retired Air Force captain and West Point graduate, agreed. “We have a duty to speak out. The biggest reason we’re here today as veterans is that we have a message that can’t be ignored. A member of Military Families Speak Out, Shannon said “Our friends are over there. Nothing has changed. The soldiers are more than just faces to us. We’ve served with them.”
The dozen protestors interviewed for this story among the 200 strong on the street expressed complete support for the troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan though they were universally opposed to the war itself.
That sentiment was lost on Dale Parrish of LaSalle and a lonely group of nine war supporters — none with personal military experience — who had stationed themselves a block north of the action. Parrish’s son Victor is an Army infantryman who just returned from Iraq and would “go back to Iraq in a heartbeat to finish the job.” Parrish did not explain why his son was stateside after a seven month tour — short of the typical one-year assignment of most soliders in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters. “I support the war, I support my son, I support the president, and I support the Republican Congress,” he boasted.
He was joined by Greeley resident Fred Cahill who repeated the familiar refrains of “if we don’t fight ’em there, we’ll fight ’em here.” Said Cahill, “I think we’re making as much progress as expected. The Iraqi people need to take responsibility for themselves.” Cahill who admitted that he had not serve in the military, he claimed that a timetable for withdrawl would not work because “we can’t predict what will happen.”
Retired Lt. Col. Richard Thomas likely understands better than anyone the bad-to-worse post-war scenarios based on his service in Vietnam.
A career officer who served in the clandestine “White Star” operation in the early 1960s which he described as “President Kennedy’s secret war” in Laos. The 1958 West Point graduate recalled, “After the Vietnam War, the military took the brunt of the criticism for the politicians. People who lose loved ones don’t want to admit that they died in vain. But all these losses [in Iraq] are for nothing.”
Thomas and his wife regularly attend the weekly anti-war protest in Fort Collins. “Iraq was not a threat to the U.S. We had no reason to go there,” he said emphatically.
Fellow Vietnam veteran Mike Collins was also on hand to lend his support. Collins, who developed larynx cancer from Agent Orange exposure, was featured in an anti-Musgrave political ad by the Denver-based ProgressNow Action claiming that she has earned a zero rating two years in a row from the Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit organization which represents 1.3 million members.
“I know first hand what the Bush Administration has done to veterans. The Veterans Administration (VA) is beyond the breaking point.” Collins described a dire situation for military personnel discharged from Walter Reed Army Medical Center or the burn unit at Brooks Army Medical Center seeking rehabilitative and psychiatric care from the VA.
“They can’t keep up because the VA staff are overworked and under-budgeted. People are not getting the truth,” he said.
David Mann decided to take a different approach than his fellow veterans’ quiet determination by confronting the Commander-in-Chief directly. Mann, a discharged Army Specialist at Fort Carson who was twice deployed to Iraq and has a brother there now, obtained a ticket to attend the president’s speech.
“I just started yelling. I couldn’t take it anymore. I jumped on a tractor in the middle of [the president’s] speech and called him a war criminal. I don’t even know what I said. I’m so mad.” The Secret Service and Greeley police grabbed him and escorted him out of the building, according to Mann.
Moments after his forcible ejection from the rally, Mann distributed the following written statement:
The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 marked a new period in American government. The United States was no longer a country were dissent and discussion was accepted or encouraged by the party in power. Since entry into Iraq, the President and his administration have misused the trust of the American people. Even more disgracefully, they have neglected their solemn commitment to rightfully make use of U.S. troops. This is a trangression that cannot be endorsed by any true patriot.