Left Justified: What to do on Memorial Day

May 19, 2010

By Stanley Campbell

Rockford Urban Ministries hosts an annual Memorial Day Service at 7 p.m., Monday, May 31, at JustGoods Meeting Room, 201 Seventh St., free and open to the public. Besides remembering all those killed by war (and yes, we remember soldiers from both sides, as well as civilians who are becoming the main casualties nowadays), our service will also remember those who locally fought against war.

This year, we remember two women who gave their all for peace: a nutritionist, Edie Applegate, went beyond her normal job and strove to help relieve hunger in the world. She was instrumental in the CROP Hunger Walk that raised funds for local and overseas hunger relief. This year’s walk Sunday, Oct. 17, will be dedicated to her memory.

Katie VanRaden was a poet and a peace activist in her own special way. I first met her at a peace rally in downtown Rockford. She was probably the oldest person there. Her feistiness complemented her warmth, and at her funeral last year, she drew a packed interracial audience. She loved folk music, Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts and chasing politicians down to talk peace. I think she was persona non-grata in our Congressman’s office.

This year’s Memorial Day service will be short and sweet. Music, some poems, a remembrance or two, and then some snacks. Nothing special, but memorializing the dead, especially those who died to make us free and keep us from war, is a very special time.

I have a friend who e-mailed me this Memorial Day missive (he was sent to the Vietnam War before I was):

“I’m not anti-federal government, just anti-pointless war. If the government wants me to shut up and keep my eyes closed, they can simply end the war and I’ll go back to watching TV and reading Civil War books instead of writing to politicians and editors.

“I honestly thought this war was going to stop American imperialist adventures. People are fed up and want these kids home. The politicians want the Army to come home, and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan want the U.S. out. That leaves just our president and his military advisers. The heart-breaking story of GIs captured and others killed will not do the war effort any good. It turned my stomach, as it does for most people.

“God, I wish my son was not in the Army now.”

That is a good prayer. And it is one of the reasons folks are getting more active: their kids are on the line.

I had a doctor tell me, though, that her two nurses both had sons in Iraq, and they were bashing her for going to Vietnam for a service trip (another “enemy” country? “Iraq” is Arabic for “Vietnam”).

We veterans have more power than we let on. We squeezed free education, housing loans and burial benefits out of a tightwad nation. And we Viet vets prodded the national conscience about Agent Orange and PTSD for decades. But we should be asking for the one thing we really want: no more wars!

Why aren’t more vets screaming for a saner foreign policy? Maybe the images of war are too strong. How to overcome the thought that more firepower is the only thing needed to save us? Well, our country has all the firepower it needs, and we’re still fighting. Looks like Afghanistan is a goner, too.

Veterans, I’m talking to you: no matter what we had in the military, home looked great (and we who got home give thanks for the extra time on Earth). Peace is not a far-off dream. Let’s get off our aging duffs and march to a different drummer: one for peace, justice and equality.

Most of us vets hate war, and we should give our lives again to prevent having to send more generations off to battle, especially off to stupid fiascos that could have been prevented. Have a memorable Memorial Day.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the May 19-25, 2010 issue

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