We speak with Minnesota State Senator Becky Lourey whose son died in Iraq two weeks ago when his helicopter was brought down near Baquba. Lourey was a leading opponent in her state of the invasion of Iraq. In March 2003, she authored an antiwar resolution signed by eighteen other state senators. [includes rush transcript]
Last month in Iraq, 80 US soldiers died, making it the deadliest month for the US military since January. That brought the official number of Americans killed since March 2003 to more than 1,660. Among those killed in the last two weeks were two soldiers who died when their helicopter was brought down near the resistance stronghold of Baquba.
The pilot of that helicopter was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. He was 40 year-old Matt Lourey from Minnesota. He happened to be the son of Minnesota State Senator Becky Lourey, who was a leading opponent in her state of the invasion of Iraq. In March 2003, she authored an antiwar resolution signed by eighteen other state senators. Before she introduced the resolution, Lourey consulted her son Matt and he told her, "You absolutely have my permission, Mom. Freedom of speech is imperative."
- State Senator Becky Lourey (D–MN)
AMY GOODMAN: I spoke with State Senator Becky Lourey by telephone and asked her to talk about her son?
BECKY LOUREY: He was a dedicated person. He believed that his duty was going to be to serve his country by serving in the armed services, and he always, always wanted to fly. And it wasn’t an easy path for him. There were many, many obstacles, but he persevered in a variety of unusual steps, and — you know, my husband was a staunch anti-war protester in the Vietnam era, and as was I, and my husband kept trying to dissuade Matt from his calling. And I recognized it as his calling, and so I made sure that he got all of the thunderbird flights that he wanted to go to, you know, because he built a wooden airplane when he was in — early in junior high school and he hung it in a big boxelder tree. And he said, I built this to give my younger brothers and sisters rides, mom, and he did in like a big swing. And then one day, I looked out and he was sitting in the plane that he built himself, and he had on his World War I ace-flying hat with the goggles and a white scarf around his neck flying. And he had rigged it up with ropes from other branches of the tree, so he, in fact, could fly it himself in the tree.
And so, this was his calling, and even though he believed this to have not been the right way to go to war, he was trained and equipped to provide aerial reconnaissance in support of ground troops. And he said, "Mom, whether the troops are in a righteous war or if it’s an ill-conceived poorly planned war rather than a defensive war, for which he was trained, he just felt he was the most experienced senior person, and it was his responsibility, and his troops deserved what he could provide. And so, he went back a second time. You know, he had — he actually had another job offer. He flew the fixed wing transporters well, and he had a job offer in D.C., and when his people went back, he said, he had to be there with them.
AMY GOODMAN: State Senator Becky Lourey, when you introduced the resolution against the invasion, first of all, what did it say, and can you talk about where your son was then in March of 2003?
BECKY LOUREY: You know, where was he in March of 2003? You know, he had been in Bosnia before that, and then he was stationed in Egypt. And you know, a lot of the communication that you do is over the email, and so I can’t remember where he was when I sent him a copy of the resolution.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you tell us what the resolution said, and how he responded?
BECKY LOUREY: What he said to me was, "Mom, freedom of speech is absolutely important. It’s what we do, and it’s what we protect. It’s what a democracy is based on, and you absolutely have every right to present this petition against the war in Iraq." He was very, very supportive. And I made sure to put a paragraph in there that — I’ll read that paragraph. "We give our unconditional support to U.S. military personnel serving at home and abroad in their tireless battle against global terrorism. And should our military forces engage in war in Iraq, we give our unyielding support to our young men and women serving in our nation’s military, even if we oppose the policy that sent them there."
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Minnesota State Senator Becky Lourey On the phone with us from her office as she continues her work after the loss of her son last week, shot down in his helicopter in Iraq. Did you take your son on anti-war demonstrations when he was young?
BECKY LOUREY: Yes, we did. We took him. You know, growing up the children were born in the early 1960s, and so there were wonderful, wonderful people to inspire them. Martin Luther King. We went on many civil rights events, and we worked for feminist rights, and we worked for peace. And so, you know, he — and his college degree was in sociology, so he had a real sense of justice, and he decided to serve. He always wanted to serve, you know, because every country requires a military, and it requires it for defense, not for preemptive war, not for preemption. I mean, I’m so scared. We are living in a time of preemption, rather than a time of cooperation, and the people that inspired us during the 1960s, their voices are there, but they’re so hard to be heard.
AMY GOODMAN: State Senator Becky Lourey, in reading the piece about your son, "A Death in the Family," in The Pioneer Press this weekend — I was in Minnesota — it talked about how Matt had joined — he wanted to learn to fly but, in fact, he didn’t get trained by the military. He ended up flipping pancakes for quite a long time and ended up training himself?
BECKY LOUREY: Yes. Yes. He had finished one year of college, and then he said, I’m going to join the Marines. And his dad and I said, "Well, Matt, we think that you have to have a college degree to fly, don’t you?" And he said, "No, no, no. They said that I could fly, but that, you know, I had to do this other first." So, was a cook in the Marines for four years, and has this — listen, I’m saying he "has" —- he had a scar across the top of his forehead from wild seas, you know, when they went sliding across the galley one time and then when he finished that four-year stint, he said, "Okay, now I’m ready to fly." And they said, "You’re a cook, you know? You get to cook. We don’t retrain you as a pilot." And so he joined the Army Reserve and he went to Ely Community College, it’s now called Vermilion Community College, up in , you know, the border between Minnesota and Canada, and he became a bush pilot. And then once he learned to fly, then the army accepted him as a helicopter pilot. I mean, they had trained him, but now that he had the experience -—
AMY GOODMAN: So, he got it on his own. He learned to flip pancakes in the military, and he learned to fly on his own.
BECKY LOUREY: Yes. Yes. And that’s a really wonderful thing for Matt and for his, you know, his siblings, as they watched the tension between Matt’s father and Matt. After he learned to fly, then you have these — you have to be rigorously healthy, and Matt had high cholesterol, and that was just a devastating blow. That’s when he became a vegetarian and a marathon runner, which is how he met his wife. They were both stationed in Egypt, and they met running a marathon. But he became a vegetarian and a marathon runner and never, ever did his cholesterol get out of control again. And then when he was doing that, you know, pilots have to have incredible eye capabilities, and there looked like there might be a challenge there, and before that was resolved, his father said to him, "Matt, I see how much this is what you see as your calling, and I hope that the eye situation turns out okay because now I support your — I support what you feel you need to do." And it was just such a wonderful time, such a wonderful time because Matt could relax, and I think that if that hadn’t happened, it would be even harder now for Matt’s father.
AMY GOODMAN: You had a chance to question Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a state legislator when he addressed the National Conference of State Legislatures.
BECKY LOUREY: I had forgotten that. I had forgotten that. I was so upset about everything that I actually thought — I am Chair of the Health Committee here in this Senate, and here we are spending $1 million a day on this war, and we can’t take care of the medical challenges facing us with our aging population, and I had just come from a meeting where the — "dual eligible" is the term, but it’s seniors who are on both Medicare and Medicaid that are very, very expensive for states, and the federal government didn’t help us at all with that, again, a more — a more serious burden as if the cost of this war is not hurting states, you know. And so I walked by, and I heard him speaking, and I knew that if I didn’t — if I didn’t let him know I was unhappy, I could never complain about him again. How can you be in the same room and be silent?
And so, I remember when I got up to the mic, I thought it was going to be Edgar Allen Poe and The Telltale Heart all over again. My heart was pounding so tremendously and I said to him, you know, the reports about Halliburton, I haven’t thought about this for a long time, but if I’m remembering right, the reports about Halliburton had just come out, and how they were overcharging, and so I made the point that we were looking for money to help us with Medicare and Medicaid for our senior population. Where we could get the money was for them to stop giving no-bid contracts to a company like Halliburton — I don’t know if I said this — that has its headquarters in the Cayman Islands so it’s not even paying taxes in America. You know, I mean — and the other thing that made me so angry is that Matt had written to me. I remember him saying, Dick Cheney, how did he say that — Dick Cheney must be making money through Halliburton on this place, and they had been sleeping in the sand with the sand fleas biting them because for weeks Halliburton hadn’t gotten the equipment out there that the soldiers needed. When Matt was in Bosnia, it wasn’t Halliburton, and the equipment was there.
AMY GOODMAN: Yeah. Looking at the transcript, you started off by saying that your son is flying helicopters in Baghdad, and Rumsfeld said, "Tell him thank you, we appreciate the service." And then you said that "I must admit that I wrote a resolution in the Minnesota Senate against going to war unilaterally." And he said, "That’s why we went in with 32 other countries." And you said — you went on to say, you’re "very upset about the services to our servicemen that Halliburton is providing. Not only could we save a lot of money if they weren’t overcharging us as much as they are, but the services that they are providing now for our servicemen are not as efficient as, for instance, they were in Bosnia, when my son was in Bosnia and the army was responsible for that." So you said, "I hope you will really look into that, and it is great concern when our servicemen and women are over there, and an entity non-bid, such as Halliburton, is not doing the job that our own army had always done much better." And Rumsfeld responded and said, "In many places we have moved to private contractors, and they have done a very good job, and to the extent they don’t do a good job, they get let go as a contractor, and it gets changed." And he says, I was advised — he said, "Second, I’m not intimately knowledgeable about what you are talking about with respect to this particular company, but I was advised this morning that what’s going on, there was no overpayment to any company and, in fact, there is a fairly normal process going on where they submit bills from their subcontractors and from their own. It gets discussed and debated. We have got auditors that crawl all over these things," he said.
BECKY LOUREY: I remember that he denied knowledge.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes. And then he said, "And what you are reading about in the paper is not an overpayment at all. It’s a disagreement between the United States and the government." He said, "I’m not an expert. I shouldn’t be speaking about this, but my understanding is it may be a disagreement between the company and the Department of Defense, as to what — and possibly between the company and the subcontractors, but there has not to my knowledge been any overpayment, and I wouldn’t want your comment to leave these good folks with a misimpression." And then he said he was going to take another comment.
BECKY LOUREY: I remember thinking, he’s like a massive tree, and I’m just shoving my fist into the tree and getting nothing but scratches from the bark. I remember — I remember thinking how are we going to — how are we going to move away from this, you know, the whole way that he talks about morality, you know, freedom versus occupation. How do we counter all of these things? I mean, even Kevin Phillips in his book, Wealth and Democracy, is talking about us living in a plutocracy and, you know, government for and by the wealthy, and the poor are unworthy. What better example than a non-bid contract to Halliburton, you know? How do we even counter this? Because it’s not just all of the service people who are dying now, it is why they are dying, and what’s going to be happening, who are going to be our leaders.
AMY GOODMAN: Minnesota State Senator, Becky Lourey, lost her son, Matt, in Iraq, two weeks ago, shot down as pilot of a helicopter. On Friday, 1,200 people attended the memorial for Matt Lourey in Minnesota, including the governor. He will be buried on Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.