GI SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT:
GI Special will
resume with the 3.23.05 issue.
The article below
will explain the temporary suspension, in the paragraph mentioning
Mar. 20, 2005 By JONATHAN FINER, THE
Here at the heart
of one of the nation's most deeply rooted military communities,
nearly 3,000 peace activists, war veterans and their family members
gathered Saturday to call for an end to the Iraq conflict on the
second anniversary of the day it began.
beating drums and chanting slogans through quiet suburban streets
to a wooded park a few miles from Fort Bragg, which is home to the
Army's 82nd Airborne Division and the U.S. Special Operations
Among the dozens of
speakers who declared their opposition to the war, the loudest
applause and only standing ovation were for Michael Hoffman, who
served as a Marine artilleryman during the invasion of Iraq and who
last July founded a group called Iraq Veterans Against the War.
"Two years ago
today, many of us standing on this stage were ready to wage
destruction on Iraq," said Hoffman, 25, wearing the top of his
desert camouflage uniform and a pin that said: "Bush lied."
"We know that the
only solution to the problem that we have created is to end the
occupation now," he said.
home to a small but entrenched peace activist community, organizers
said the protest was the largest gathering of any kind since 1970,
when a few thousand antiwar activists converged in the same park to
protest the Vietnam War.
The protest leaders
- including representatives of several of the most prominent antiwar
groups to emerge since the Iraq conflict began - said they selected
this town along the Cape Fear River because so many of its
approximately 125,000 citizens have personally felt the impact of
the ongoing conflict.
More than 10,000
soldiers from Fort Bragg are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, and
since 2002, about 80 service personnel with ties to the region or
its bases have been killed, according to the Fayetteville Observer.
"It was important to come here because
there is hardly a single family in Fayetteville that does not have
some connection to the military," said Lou Plummer, a local activist
and veteran of the North Carolina National Guard. "When you're at
church, when you're in the grocery store, when you visit your
children at school, there will be someone there who is on active
duty, or with a family member on active duty, or a veteran of the
Plummer's son Drew
was discharged from the Navy after deserting his unit last year. On
Saturday afternoon, both men addressed the crowd, which the
Fayetteville Police Department estimated at more than 2,800 people.
Across the street were a few dozen
demonstrators who objected to the antiwar message. Some were members
of local military families, while others said they had traveled to
Fayetteville as part of a group organized by the conservative group
Free Republic through its Web site.
"You're traitors to our country. Go
home! You don't belong in Fayetteville," shouted Tammy Harris, who
waved a small American flag, as did her four children, as the
demonstrators paraded past.
Chris Dodds, 36, an Army veteran who
lives just outside of town, held a sign that read "Protest policy in
D.C. - Support the military in Fayetteville."
"All we are here are families, and
they should be supported. There's no policy being made here. They
should take the protests somewhere else," Dodds said.
The speeches began when the procession
reached Rowan Street Park just after midday.
Pat Elder, an antiwar activist from
Bethesda, Md., laid out 100 cardboard coffins draped in U.S. flags
to symbolize the war dead. Another organization distributed dozens
of "peace parasols," black umbrellas adorned with painted messages.
Earlier, costumed puppeteers danced to drumbeats in a dramatic
interpretation of the Pablo Picasso painting, Guernica, which
depicts the Spanish Civil War.
Celeste Zappala, 58, of Philadelphia,
wore a sandwich board with a large photograph of her son, Sherwood
Baker, a Pennsylvania National Guard sergeant who was killed in an
explosion in Baghdad last April.
A co-founder of the group Gold Star
Families for Peace, composed of family members of servicemen killed
in Iraq, she said the rallies force the public to pay attention to
the human cost of the conflict.
"It's really important for people to
understand that those who lost children and spouses are devastated,
and you can't just turn off the war when you turn off the
television," she said.
Others who spoke included Daniel Berg,
the father of Nick Berg, a civilian contractor who was kidnapped and
beheaded in Iraq last year, and Camilo Mejia, a deserter who turned
himself in to military authorities last March. He said he had
served nine months in the brig at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and was
discharged last month.
directed their remarks to soldiers still serving in the military.
"There is nothing
more important today than building links and giving aid and comfort
to the members of the armed forces who are turning against the war
in greater numbers," said Thomas Barton, a union organizer from New
York and the editor of GI Special, an antiwar e-mail bulletin.
"The rebellion in
the armed forces of the United States will stop the war," he said.
Joshua Despain, who
said he deserted his army unit soon after it returned from Iraq in
April of 2004, drove 11 hours from Panama City, Fla. to be at the
rally. He was discharged from the 82nd Airborne and now works as a
"Basically, after a
while I didn't buy any of it," said Despain, 23, who wore jeans, his
uniform top and a red military beret. "I saw the Iraqi people as no
threat and couldn't see why people were getting killed for this. I
wanted to share what I had been through with the others."
Asked for a reaction, Major Rich
Patterson, spokesman for XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, said,
"Some of our fellow citizens are concerned over the conflict in Iraq
, and it is important that they be able to peacefully express that
They Stopped An Imperial War