We speak with Charlie Liteky a former US Army chaplain, who won the congressional medal of honor for saving some 20 soldiers in Vietnam. In 1986, he laid that medal at the Vietnam War memorial in protest of U.S. involvement in Central America. [Includes transcript]
In 1986, Vietnam veteran Charlie Liteky laid his Congressional Medal of Honor at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. He wrote a letter to then-President Ronald Reagan saying he was returning the medal in protest of US support for right wing death squads in Central America, such as the Contras in Nicaragua. In Vietnam, Litkey was a US Army chaplain who saved some 20 US soldiers. During the 1980s, Liteky spent extensive time in Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and el Salvador. He was an organizer of the first ever protest at the US Army School of the Americas, which trained many of the paramilitary leaders in Central America.
- Charlie Liteky, won congressional medal of honor for saving some 20 soldiers in Vietnam. In 1986, he laid that medal at the Vietnam War memorial in protest of US involvement in Central America.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman as we turn to Charlie Liteky who won the congressional medal of honor for saving some 20 soldiers in Vietnam. In 1986, he laid that medal at the Vietnam War memorial in protest of U.S. support of the Contras in Nicaragua. We welcome you to DemocracyNow!.
CHARLIE LITEKY: Good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: You are a former U.S. army chaplain. Your thoughts today about the Reagan legacy in Central America as we continue our series, “Remembering the Dead.”
CHARLIE LITEKY: Well, all of this lionization of President Reagan which is coming over the TV now on almost every channel is just nauseous to me. I have gotten to a point where I can’t even turn it on until all of the accolades are over.
As far as I am concerned, President Reagan was in the same category with a man we have in there now. He was responsible, he was an accomplice to the death of literally thousands and thousands of people. I don’t think the public is much aware of this, you know; this is all part of history, and we seem to have a very short memory for the atrocities committed by people we hold in high esteem.
Anyway, I became aware of the fact that what was going on in Central America during the 1980’s and when president Reagan was right in there from, I think it was 19 84 or 1985 on. He was in great support of the military in El Salvador, which was one of the most brutal militaries in history, and also the Contras in Central America or rather in Nicaragua. I think it’s been said very eloquently by the priest who preceded me— all of the things that he is responsible for.
But I went to Central America several times. I went with a group of Vietnam veterans to El Salvador and Nicaragua and Honduras, and I came back with a changed mind. It was a beginning of a process of metamorphosis for me to discover what our government has been involved in over the years.
So, as a result of my visit to El Salvador and Nicaragua, I decided that I no longer wanted a medal associated with a government that would be behind such things by way of policy. Also, I wanted to draw attention to what we were doing in Central America, in the name of freedom and democracy.
When President Reagan said, “I am a contra, too,” I said that he insulted every American patriot when he referred to these killers of children, old men and women as freedom fighters, comparable to the founding fathers of our country. To me that’s an obscenity.
So, I just said, you know, in the name of freedom and national security and national interests in anti-communism, you have tried to justify crimes against humanity of the most heinous sort. You have made a global bully of the United States. You would not dare to do that to countries capable of defending themselves, what you have done to tiny nations like El Salvador and Nicaragua and Honduras.
So, I, you know, wrote just a one-page letter, laid it at the apex of the Vietnam wall where the names of the victims of that war and the lives of that war are etched in black marble. I felt that was an appropriate place to leave it, because the soldiers of Vietnam, those who died, those who were wounded were victims of lies of that era just as these poor kids now in Iraq are victims of the lies of this administration; so, it was a poignant moment for me, because I was very proud of the fact to have received that particular award.
So, but I just felt that was all I could take at that particular time. And, I finally ended the letter to President Reagan with this short paragraph. I said, “I pray for your conversion, Mr. President. Some morning I hope that you wake up and hear the cry of the poor riding on a southwest wind from Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador. They’re crying, stop killing us.”
It’s still going on. That’s the really sad thing.
So, as far as President Reagan is concerned, that’s eulogy for him. All I can say is, you know, may god have mercy on him. It’s not for me to judge, but it is for me, and I think it is for every American to be aware of what is being done in our name around the world. It was not just then. It’s been going on ever since then, and this mess in Iraq is, to me, far worse than Vietnam for a lot of reasons.
I am in deep sympathy with all of those young men that are over there now doing what they think is their patriotic duty. I think it is more of a patriotic duty of citizens of this country to stand up and say that this is wrong, that this is immoral.
AMY GOODMAN: Charlie Liteky returned the congressional medal of honor, was a U.S. army chaplain in Vietnam, saved more than 20 soldiers in Vietnam, laid down that medal in 1986 protesting U.S. involvement in Central America in the midst of the Reagan years in Washington.