Massachusetts Peace Action‘s Nancy Wren’s question echoed clearly: Are we finished with war yet? The dozens of flowers floating in the ocean, just as the tens of thousands of memorial flags arranged on the Common blocks away, hauntingly begged how many more would join their number next year.
The Boston chapter of Veterans for Peace aren’t typically known for their quiet assemblies. Rather, somewhat of a ruckus tends to accompany the Smedley D. Butler Brigade, whether in its boisterous participation in Veterans Day and St. Paddy’s Day parades or in its members’ daring defiance of the eviction order at Occupy Boston last October. Boston VFP members routinely risk arrest to bring attention to their pleas for peace, demilitarization of foreign policy and adequate care for members of the military returning from combat. They are no strangers to vocal, dramatic and even disruptive demonstrations.
But, unlike VFP’s direct actions, no parade or fanfare accompanied the Boston Veterans for Peace’s Memorial Day commemoration on the waterfront at Christopher Columbus Park.
“Memorial Day is meant to remember those who did not make it home, those who have been injured physically and mentally, and all those who have suffered from war,” says VFP coordinator Patrick Scanlon, a Vietnam veteran. “We’re tired of the militaristic parades, the flyovers and the paratroopers. So Veterans for Peace put together this [ceremony] as something that is meaningful and respectful for all who have lost family members and loved ones.”
Reverend Lara Hoke, Secretary of Boston VFP, opened the ceremony by invoking wisdom to avoid war and complicity in its execution. After reading the names of four Boston VFP members who had passed away over the past year, Scanlon spoke on the alarming trend of suicide among veterans, which has increased markedly since US troops entered Afghanistan and Iraq. A survey released by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America revealed that nearly 40 percent of the 4,000 veterans surveyed knows at least one other service member who has committed suicide.
“This should not have happened to my son,” said Kevin Lucey, whose son Jeffrey, a Marine who served in Iraq, committed suicide in June 2004 after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“We have to demand more. We have to demand that our government give our vets the best of treatment.”
In addition to honoring the deaths and suffering of American troops, the Veterans for Peace wanted to remember the impact of war on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. VFP member Bradford Adams gave a moving remembrance of his friend Zalmai, a translator who was killed on Adams’ last day of service in Afghanistan. Leyla Al Zubaydi expressed gratitude to the VFP on behalf of the Iraqi community in Lowell, while Iraqi refugee Farouq Ali decried American and Western hypocrisy in responding to the Arab Spring, saying that the inconsistent response is motivated by oil and material interests.
The service concluded with a reading of the names of all military members from Massachusetts who had died in service in Iraq or Afghanistan, or who had killed themselves upon return from duty. A bell was wrung for each name, and a friend, family member or VFP member threw a flower into the harbor as remembrance. Veterans for Peace also threw bouquets for unnamed soldiers who had lost their lives. Members of the Iraqi community in Lowell also read the names of loved ones who had died during the invasion, their flowers mingling with those thrown for the American fallen.
As a member of VFP played “Taps” and the crowd dispersed, the pressing question of Massachusetts Peace Action‘s Nancy Wren seemed to echo clearly: Are we finished with war yet? The dozens of flowers floating in the ocean, just as the tens of thousands of memorial flags arranged on the Common blocks away, hauntingly begged how many more would join their number next year.
“These wars are just facilitating future Memorial Days,” concludes Scanlon somberly.