I Thought We Learned a Lesson in Vietnam

Nick Coleman: Back from Iraq, veterans raise their voices against the war
By Nick Coleman, Star Tribune, November 10, 2007 – 8:47 PM

Wes Davey, drafted during the Vietnam War, thought America learned a lesson in Vietnam. He never thought he’d spend his 54th birthday in Baghdad, or that a son would serve there, too.

Brandon Day carries the names of 11 dead comrades tattooed on his right arm. But you don’t need to see the tattoos to see his pain. It’s in his eyes.

And Raymond Camper is one of the Minnesota National Guard members who served a longer stretch in Iraq than any other U.S. troops deployed there.

Camper, Davey and Day share more than their time in uniform. They share the anger and disenchantment of many veterans who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also share a determination to speak out.

The three are among the founding members of the Minnesota chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, a group established here in September.

(For more information, visit the website at www.ivaw.org.)

Today is Veterans Day (government offices will be closed Monday), and Iraq Veterans Against the War will join Veterans For Peace near the State Capitol this morning for a reading of the names of Minnesotans who have died in Iraq. Afterward, the antiwar vets hope new members will join them to help get word to other veterans that there is strength in numbers, and in telling the truth.

Drafted as a teenager during the Vietnam era, Davey was a National Guard and Army Reserve soldier who retired with the rank of master sergeant after serving in Iraq at the start of the war.

Now, at 58, he is president of the Minnesota chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

Speaking last week at Augsburg College, Davey said the war was based on lies from the Bush administration and that, while servicemen and women and their families have borne the war’s sacrifice, the affluent in the political and corporate worlds are sacrificing nothing and are profiting from the war.

Davey said veterans returning from Iraq — many suffering from undiagnosed or untreated physical and mental problems — are angered by the attitude they encounter when they get back: “You volunteered. Shut up and die.”

Nearly 4,500 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan (this year has been the bloodiest to date, in both countries). Meanwhile, the wounded and maimed return to a country where 70 percent of the public opposes the war but few do anything about it, including the “opposition” in Congress. No wonder there is rising anger among veterans.

Day, 29, enlisted after 9/11 and served two tours in Iraq, the second ending in September 2006. After 9/11, he had an eagle and a flag tattooed on his right shoulder, a sign of his desire to defend America. Now, on that same arm, tattooed dog tags bear the names of 10 soldiers in his company who died in Iraq, as well as the name of a friend who committed suicide after coming home.

The darkness doesn’t go away

“Being in Iraq fills you with a darkness that doesn’t go away,” Day told a gathering at the Cathedral of St. Paul in September, recounting how he pulled another friend’s body from the wreckage of a Humvee. Now studying engineering at the University of Minnesota, Day finds that his outrage at the waste of lives in Iraq fuels his passion to speak against the war.

After four soldiers in his unit were killed in an explosion, he says, an Army psychiatrist counseled the grieving troops. But after two hours, the shrink looked at his watch and said, “Well, I guess we should get out of here.”

After that, Day says, the soldiers decided they couldn’t talk about their feelings. Instead, their attitude became, “The Army broke me, and they can’t fix me.”

Today’s reading of the names of the dead will follow a 10:30 bell-ringing ceremony at the First Shot Memorial on the west side of the Veterans Services Building near the Capitol. Afterward, at noon, the group will meet at Macalester Plymouth United Church, 1658 Lincoln Av., St. Paul. All Iraq-era veterans are welcome. They may also e-mail Minnesota@ivaw.org.

“For the second time in my life, a president has plunged our country into a quagmire where there is no way to win a victory which can be defined,” Davey says.

“I thought we learned a lesson in Vietnam. I was wrong.”


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