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Memorial Day Special: U.S. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan Return War Medals at NATO Summit

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Democracy Now! returns to Chicago, site of the largest NATO summit in the organization’s six-decade history, where nearly 50 veterans discarded their war medals by hurling them down the street in the direction of the NATO summit. We hear the soldiers’ voices as they return their medals one by one from the stage. “I’m here to return my Global War on Terror Service Medal in solidarity with the people of Iraq and the people of Afghanistan,” said Jason Hurd, a former combat medic who spent 10 years in the U.S. Army. “I am deeply sorry for the destruction that we have caused in those countries and around the globe.” Scott Kimball, an Iraq war veteran, adds: “For all the servicemembers and veterans who are against these wars, you are not alone!” Click here to see the other parts of the 2012 Memorial Day Special: 2, 3, 4, 5. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryMay 27, 2013U.S. Army Vets Join with Afghans for Peace to Lead Antiwar March at Chicago NATO Summit
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we bring you a Memorial Day special, “Honor the Dead, Heal the Wounded, Stop the Wars.” That was the demand of veterans who gathered in Chicago May 20th at the site of the largest NATO summit in the organization’s six-decade history. The veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as well as women from Afghans for Peace led a peace march of thousands of people to the summit gates. Iraq Veterans Against the War held a ceremony where more than 40 veterans hurled their war medals toward the gates of the NATO summit.


VETERANS: No NATO, no war!

ASH WOOLSON: We don’t work for you no more!

VETERANS: We don’t work for you no more!



ASH WOOLSON: We don’t kill for you no more!

VETERANS: We don’t kill for you no more!

ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: At this time, one by one, veterans of the wars of NATO will walk up on stage. They will tell us why they chose to return their medals to NATO. I urge you to honor them by listening to their stories. Nowhere else will you hear from so many who fought these wars about their journey from fighting a war to demanding peace. Some of us killed innocents. Some of us helped in continuing these wars from home. Some of us watched our friends die. Some of us are not here, because we took our own lives. We did not get the care promised to us by our government. All of us watched failed policies turn into bloodshed. Listen to us, hear us, and think: was any of this worth it?


ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: Do these medals thank us for a job well done?


ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: Do they mask lies, corruption, and abuse of young men and women who swore to defend their country?


ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: We tear off this mask. Hear us.

IRIS FELICIANO: My name is Iris Feliciano. I served in the Marine Corps. And in January of 2002, I deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. And I want to tell the folks behind us, in these enclosed walls, where they build more policies based on lies and fear, that we no longer stand for them. We no longer stand for their lies, their failed policies and these unjust wars. Bring our troops home and end the war now. They can have these back.

PETE SULLIVAN: My name is Pete Sullivan. I served in the Army National Guard for 12 years. And all I have to say is that this is not something that I’m proud of.

ERICA SLONE: My name is Erica Slone. I’m from Ohio. I served in the Air Force from 2002 to 2008. I’m an Iraq veteran. In the military is where I learned what integrity meant, and I believe I served with integrity. And at this point in my life, if I want to continue to live with integrity, I must get rid of these.

GREG MILLER: My name is Greg Miller. I’m a veteran of the United States Army infantry with service in Iraq 2009. The military hands out cheap tokens like this to soldiers, servicemembers, in an attempt to fill the void where their conscience used to be once they indoctrinate it out of you. But that didn’t work on me, so I’m here to return my Global War on Terrorism Medal and my National Defense Medal, because they’re both lies.

JERRY: My name is Jerry. I’m from New York City. I served in the Army from 2005 to 2009. I fought in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I, today, am giving back my Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, because I realized that after a while that it was just nothing but an idea made by a bunch of politicians, money-hungry politicians in Washington who will do nothing and have a complete disregard for human life and will do anything in their power to just make more money in the end. Now, if it’s just an idea, then therefore it was just an idea that sparked two wars that I had to fight in. And I don’t want any part of it anymore. And I choose human life over war, militarism and imperialism.

SCOTT KIMBALL: My name is Scott Kimball. I’m an Iraq war vet. And I’m turning in these medals today for the people of Pakistan, Iraq, Palestine, and all victims of occupation across the world. And also, for all the servicemembers and veterans who are against these wars, you are not alone!

CHRISTOPHER MAY: My name is Christopher May. I left the Army as a conscientious objector. We were told that these medals represented, you know, democracy and justice and hope and change for the world. These medals represent a failure on behalf of the leaders of NATO to accurately represent the will of their own people. It represents a failure on the leaders of NATO to do what’s right by the disenfranchised people of this world. Instead of helping them, they take advantage of them, and they’re making things worse. I will not be a part of that anymore. These medals don’t mean anything to me, and they can have them back.

TY: Hello. My name is Ty, and thank you all for coming out. I’m letting go and releasing this medal because love is the most powerful force that we can employ as human beings on this planet, and we cannot love holding weapons.

ASH WOOLSON: My name is Ash Woolson. I was a sergeant. I was in Iraq in '03, and what I saw there crushed me. I don't want us to suffer this again, and I don’t want our children to suffer this again, and so I’m giving these back!

MAGGIE MARTIN: My name is Maggie Martin. I was a sergeant in the Army. I did two tours in Iraq. No amount of medals, ribbons or flags can cover the amount of human suffering caused by these wars. We don’t want this garbage. We want our human rights. We want our right to heal.

JAYSON MISSOULA: My name is Jayson Missoula. I graduated high school in 2002. And thinking that we had to protect our borders, I wound up first enlisting in the Coast Guard. I spent four years on active duty. And in my time, I started to feel guilty, because my friends were going on multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in other branches, and I was doing things as an 18-year-old, being led by men 10 years older than me, that the Secret Service recently got in trouble for. So then I get out, I go to college for a semester, and feeling guilty for spending time partying in the Caribbean and having to see humans—Haitians, Dominicans—floating in the water and wondering why they’re there, why are they leaving, and starting to ask these questions. All right, so then I go into the National Guard, sign up for a one-year contract, which they allowed me. They sent me to New Mexico to the desert for one month and then Vermont for two weeks. And after that, I was an infantryman, and then I was sent over to Iraq, and I spent just under six months driving a truck, playing god, after two weeks of infantry training. And we fortunately were redeployed home early. And since then, I’ve used my GI Bill to study political science and American studies, and it’s helped me humanize people all around the world, because one of the first friends I made is Palestinian, and I spent the summer in West Bank. For the first time, I learned a little bit what it feels like to be on the receiving end, when I was tear-gassed in a little village just south of Ramallah, Bil’in, I believe. But so, I apologize. One of my favorite new poets says, “Affirm life. Affirm life. Affirm life.” That’s absolutely what we have to do. And the only medal I’m going to keep is the Humanitarian Service one I got for being in New Orleans, because that’s the only thing that we should be doing as humans.

DAVID VAN DAM: I’m David Van Dam. I was in the U.S. Navy. I’m a GI resister. I got a other-than-honorable discharge. And I want to say that their policies are other than honorable. And I’m honorable, and all the GI resisters that refuse to fight in unjust wars are honorable. This is in solidarity for all GI resisters of unjust wars!

MARK STRUDAS: My name is Mark Strudas. I’m from Chesterton, Indiana. I just want to say thank you for being understanding, inviting and wonderful—even these guys in black and blue. This is a Good Conduct Medal. Ha!

JACOB CRAWFORD: I’m Jacob Crawford. I went to Iraq and Afghanistan. And when they gave me these medals, I knew they were meaningless. I only regret not starting to speak up about how silly the war is sooner. I’m giving these back. Free Bradley Manning!

JASON HURD: My name is Jason Hurd. I spent 10 years in the United States Army as a combat medic. I deployed to Baghdad in 2004. I’m here to return my Global War on Terrorism Service Medal in solidarity with the people of Iraq and the people of Afghanistan. I am deeply sorry for the destruction that we have caused in those countries and around the globe. I am proud to stand on this stage with my fellow veterans and my Afghan sisters. These were lies. I’m giving them back.

CHRIS MOBERG: My name is Chris Moberg. I was part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And out of love and respect, out of the Iraqi people and the people of Afghanistan, I’m going to return these representations of hate and destruction back where they came from.

JACOB FLOM: My name is Jacob Flom. I was in the Air Force from '03 to ’07. And it's—I joined the military so I could pay to go to college, because the working class fights the ruling class’s wars. But I’m not fighting for imperialism anymore. I’m fighting against imperialism. And this is dedicated—this is dedicated to all the courageous people who are under attack by the FBI, Carlos Montes and the Anti-War 23.

RAYMOND KNAEBLE: My name’s Raymond Knaeble, and I’m here to return my medals. NATO, the U.S.A. government and Israel need to be held accountable for the war crimes, genocide, torture and drone attacks. I’m returning my medals! They can have them!

STEVEN LUNN: My name is Steven Lunn [phon.]. I’m a two-time Iraq combat veteran. This medal I’m dedicating to the children of Iraq that no longer have fathers and mothers.

SHAWNA FOSTER: My name is Shawna, and I was a nuclear biological chemical specialist for a war that didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction. So I deserted. I’m one of 40,000 people that left the United States Armed Forces because this is a lie!

STEVE ACHESON: My name is Steve Acheson. I’m from Campbellsport, Wisconsin. I was a forward observer in the United States Army for just under five years. I deployed to Sadr City, Iraq, in 2005. And I’m giving back my medals for the children of Iraq and Afghanistan. May they be able to forgive us for what we’ve done to them. May we begin to heal, and may we live in peace from here until eternity.

PHIL: My name’s Phil. I’m from Atlanta. And the reason why I’m throwing my medal back is because we are the global 99 percent, and we refuse to be silent, from Egypt back here to Chicago!

MICHAEL THURMAN: Hello. My name is Michael Thurman. I was a conscientious objector from the United States Air Force. I’m returning my Global War on Terrorism Medal and my military coins on behalf of Private First Class Bradley Manning, who sacrificed everything to show us the truth about these wars.

GREG BROSEUS: My name is Greg Broseus. I’m from Columbus, Ohio. I now reside in the beautiful city of Chicago, Illinois, that today is not quite as beautiful, because NATO is here. And I’m here to return my medals, because I cannot stand in solidarity and peace with my brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan as long as I wear them.

SABRINA WALLER: My name is Sabrina Waller. I’m a United States Navy veteran. I deployed under NATO orders to Kosovo in '99. I'm also a mother of an 11-year-old. For over 10 years of his life, we’ve been waging war. And the only fight that I want to participate in is the fight to ensure that my son and his generation never have to fight another war.

MATT: My name is Matt [inaudible]. I served in the U.S. Army in 2004 in Iraq. I’m returning my medals today because, under the guise of freedom and democracy, I stole the humanity of the Iraqi people and lost mine. We are on the right side of history!

MATT HOWARD: My name is Matt Howard. I served in the United States Marine Corps from 2001 to 2006 and in Iraq twice. I’m turning in my campaign service—Iraq Campaign Service Medal and Global War on Terror Service and Expeditionary Medals for all my brothers and sisters affected with traumatic brain injury, military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

BRYAN REINHOLDT: My name is Bryan Reinholdt. I’m from Kentucky. I’m a former sergeant of the U.S. Army. Former sergeant of the U.S. Army, proud member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. And I’m taking these things off—all of them—encourage you to refuse to.

MARK: I’m Mark. I haven’t been too convinced of anything the last seven years, except for the fact that I’ve been hurting. And I have three daughters: Anell, Leah and Nora. And I’m convinced, looking out across this, this crowd of peace-loving people, that my daughters are going to have peace.

ZACH LAPORTE: Hi. My name is Zach LaPorte, and I’m an Iraq war veteran from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Thank you. I’m giving back my medals today because I feel like I was duped into an illegal war that was sold to me on the guise that I was going to be liberating the Iraqi people, when instead of liberating the people, I was liberating their oil fields.

RACHEL McNEILL: My name’s Rachel McNeill. I served in the military for almost eight years as a sergeant. And i’m returning this medal today because it’s time to restore America’s honor and renounce this war on terror.

JACOB GEORGE: My name is Jacob George. I’m from the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas. I’m a three-tour veteran of the Afghan war, paratrooper and sergeant. And I have one word for this Global War on Terrorism decoration, and that is “shame.”

SCOTT OLSEN: My name is Scott Olsen. I have with me today—today I have with me my Global War on Terror Medal, Operation Iraqi Freedom Medal, National Defense Medal and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. These medals, once upon a time, made me feel good about what I was doing. They made me feel like I was doing the right thing. And I came back to reality, and I don’t want these anymore.

JOSHUA: I’m Joshua. I’m a member of IVAW, and I’m from Chicago. And honestly, friends, I’m here to tell you that I blame myself first. I should have done my homework, should have realized the lies before I participated in them. So this symbolic act, this throwing of the medal, is for all those people out there who are wondering why we’re doing it. Do your homework.

RICHARD STRODER: My name is Richard Stroder [phon.], and I’m from Auburn, Alabama. And I’m here to say that war is a racket!

TODD DENNIS: My name is Todd Dennis. I served in the United States Navy. I have PTSD. I’m returning my Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal because it was given to me, according to my letter, because of hard work and dedication and setting the example. I was a hard worker because I buried my PTSD and overworked myself in the military. And I’m throwing this back and invoking my right to heal.

MICHAEL APPLEGATE: My name is Michael Applegate. I was in the United States Navy from 1998 to 2006. And I’m returning my medal today because I want to live by my conscience rather than being a prisoner of it.

NATE: My name’s Nate. I served in the U.S. Navy from ’99 to 2003 and participated in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. I was wrong to sign myself up for that. I apologize to the Iraqi and Afghani people for destroying your countries.

JOSHUA SHEPHERD: My name is Joshua Shepherd. I spent six years in the United States Navy. These are not mine. They never were. They’re instruments of control from this government. I will not continue to trade my humanity for false heroism.

BROCK McINTOSH: My name is Brock McIntosh. I was in the Army National Guard and served in Afghanistan from November '08 to August ’09. Two months ago, I visited the monument at Ground Zero for my first time with two Afghans. A tragic monument. I'm going to toss this medal today for the 33,000 civilians who have died in Afghanistan that won’t have a monument built for them. And this is for the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.

JOHN ANDERSON: My name is John Anderson. I did two deployments to Iraq. And all of this destruction was not necessary. And now, we will bring it to an end, because another world is possible. We are unstoppable!

CROWD: Another world is possible!

JOHN ANDERSON: We are unstoppable!

CROWD: Another world is possible!

GRAHAM CLUMPNER: I’m Graham Clumpner. I’m an Army veteran. I spent a good amount of time in Afghanistan. And I just want everybody to look around, take a second and look around, look next to you right now. I’m talking to the police officers. I’m talking about everybody out here. There are thousands of people out here for something important. We’re hearing. We’re having a conversation for the first time in a long time—for many of us, for the first time. And I want to say that all of us, in some way or another, are trying to serve this great land that we live in, but it’s only great because of what we do with it. And sometimes we make mistakes. And the way we change that is we admit our mistakes and we take responsibility for our mistakes, and we change and we become better, and we do it together. So I’m returning my Global War on Terrorism Medal, because I don’t fight wars on adjectives.

VINCE EMANUELE: My name is Vince Emanuele, and I served with the United States Marine Corps. First and foremost, this is for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Second of all, this is for our real forefathers. I’m talking about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. I’m talking about the Black Panthers. I’m talking about the civil rights movement. I’m talking about unions. I’m talking about our socialist brothers and sisters, our communist brothers and sisters, our anarchist brothers and sisters, and our ecology brothers and sisters. That’s who our real forefathers are. And lastly—and lastly and most importantly, our enemies are not 7,000 miles from home. They sit in boardrooms. They are CEOs. They are bankers. They are hedge fund managers. They do not live 7,000 miles from home. Our enemies are right here, and we look at them every day. They are not the men and women who are standing on this police line. They are the millionaires and billionaires who control this planet, and we’ve had enough of it. So they can take their medals back.

CHUCK WINANT: My name is Chuck Winant. I’m here on behalf of six good Americans who really wanted to be here but they couldn’t be. They couldn’t be, because when they came to the U.S. border, they’d be immediately arrested. And the crime they’d be arrested for was refusing to continue to participate in the crimes against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. And these good Americans, who are exiled now from this country, who deserve amnesty, are Private Christian Kjar of the U.S. Marine Corps; Private Kim Rivera, Army, Combat Action Badge, refused redeployment to Iraq; Corporal Jeremy Brockway, U.S. Marine Corps, Combat Action Badge, refused redeployment to Iraq; Specialist Jules Tindungan, Combat Infantry Badge, paratrooper, refused redeployment to Afghanistan; Sergeant Corey Glass, Army, refused redeployment to Iraq; and Sergeant Chris Vassey, paratrooper, CIB, refused redeployment to Afghanistan. I have their awards in my pocket, and I’m throwing them back, mad as hell!

AARON HUGHES: My name is Aaron Hughes. I served in the Illinois Army National Guard from 2000 and 2006. This medal right here is for Anthony Wagner. He died last year. This medal right here is for the one-third of the women in the military that are sexually assaulted by their peers. We talk about standing up for our sisters—we talk about standing up for our sisters in Afghanistan, and we can’t even take care of our sisters here. And this medal right here is because I’m sorry. I’m sorry to all of you. I’m sorry.

ALEJANDRO VILLATORO: My name is Alejandro Villatoro, sergeant. I went to—took part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan 2011. Believe me, I was a soldier. I was a squared-away soldier, and I really believed in this mission. And I learned the Army values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. But after my experience, I realized that there is no integrity. Integrity: do what’s legally and morally right. And we failed. So there is no honor in these wars. There’s just shame.

AMY GOODMAN: Veterans of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, hurling their war medals towards the gates of the NATO summit in Chicago. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we bring you this Memorial Day special, “Honor the Dead, Heal the Wounded, Stop the Wars.” Back in a minute.

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