Milwaukee Mourn Death of 4000 Soldiers
Vigil to Mourn 4,000
story by PatsPen/photos by Mikasi
“It is most important,” said Greg Martin, one of the organizers of a vigil to mourn the 4,000th casualty of the Iraq war, “to remember the men and women who died. As citizens and families, we have to mourn. But at the same time,” he added about the vigil being held in the village of West Milwaukee, “we came to urge an increase in funding for the veterans of the Afghan and Iraq wars.”
On March 24, the 4,000th American casualty of the Iraq war was announced. As previously planned, two groups held candlelight vigils in spots statewide to commemorate the event on March 25. Veterans for Peace and Wisconsin Peace Action had representatives in West Milwaukee as well as in other communities Tuesday evening. Participants held signs or flags or assisted in holding up flag-draped cardboard “caskets” along the intersection of National Avenue and Hwy. 41 (Stadium Freeway).
Martin has been involved with veterans of the current Iraq war while volunteering with Wisconsin Standdown and Vets Place Central. “It’s not just those who died, but those who were wounded or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” he said, adding, “that should probably be Post Traumatic Stress Normality.” He feels the number of vets affected
by the Afghan and Iraq war approaches 650,000.
“Some volunteers who work with these vets,” he said, “say the vets need six counseling sessions a week, but they can only afford to give them two.” Martin says more funding for treatment programs is needed and could come from shifting tax money currently spent on the war itself. “Right now, there’s an emphasis on medication rather than therapy,” he points out. In addition to spending money on veterans medical and mental health treatment, he says funding is also needed for homeless veterans.
According to Josh Harvey of Veterans for Peace, a third of
the homeless population is made up of veterans.
The population of the vigil itself was made up of a disparate group of people, such as the Winter Soldiers, Vietnam Vets Against the War and the Welfare Warriors. According to Pat Glowens, the Welfare Warriors became involved because many of those in Iraq affected by the war are “poor mothers and children”.
Some of the participants had no affiliation with any specific group, like Jeff Sainio, who was holding up one end of a large banner featuring photographs of every soldier from Wisconsin who died in Iraq or Afghanistan. “Before the war,” he recalled, Bush kept talking about the ‘drones of mass destruction’, which were drone planes that Saddam Hussein was going to launch and use to spread anthrax all along the coast of the US. And this was all some kind of technology we didn’t have that this little desert nation had? I determined they were lying and that their entire build up to war was just a tissue of lies. So, for a protest I attended before the war started, I made a large paper airplane that I labeled ‘the drone of mass destruction.’ Then after the war started, I found issues of more substance and began collecting the pictures. The first banner I made was when the casualties reached, 1,000, then I added more pictures when it reached 2,000. Now, the top row holds another 26 Wisconsin soldiers and we’ve reached 4,000 nationwide.”
Jeanette Herrera had more personal reasons to attend the rally. “My nephew has lived for two years at a hospital in DC,” she said. “He got sent to Iraq before he even finished basic training and he wasn’t ready for everything there. He only got four weeks of basic and they sent him over there and when we finally saw him he said they’d been making him kill kids for no reason at all. He just broke down. He couldn’t take it.” Herrera also said she had another nephew and a niece who had also been sent overseas, to Saudi Arabia.
Alongside the other sign-carrying participants in the rally
was a lone counterprotester, holding up a sign equating protest with terrorism.
Scott Flaugher heard about the vigil on the news that morning and decided to
attend. He had served in the Air Force during the first Gulf War. “I
support the war on terrorism,” he explains. “Obviously every
soldier who dies is a tragic loss, I would prefer no war at all. But the
international threat of terrorism needs to be addressed and has been ignored by
the previous administration. If we do not address this issue, religious
terrorist fanatics, we’ll just have to go back and fight again.”
When interviewed, Flaugher was standing on the sidewalk next
to John Zutz, who had participated in the Winter Soldier program earlier in the
month. But earlier, Flaugher had been standing on the “island” in
the pedestrian crosswalk for Hwy. 41. West Milwaukee Assistant Chief of Police
Dennis Nasci had spoken to organizers about concerns with impeding traffic and
other safety issues and had approached Martin about pedestrians on the traffic
island. Martin told Nasci that Flaugher wasn’t with his group. Still
Martin had heard enough from the local police to know that his group had to toe
a fairly difficult line to avoid having the event shut down altogether.
He warned his group about not blocking both sides of the
sidewalk, remaining on the sidewalk, and not using the traffic button that
triggered the “walk” light across 41. “If we stop traffic
with the walk light, it is going to be considered interfering with traffic and
we’ll be shut down,” Martin warned his group. “You can cross
the other way (across National
Ave.), because it’s a timed light.”
But the group wanted to use three of the four corners at the
intersection, so some waited for the light to be triggered in some other manner
in order to cross Hwy. 41. There was usually a line waiting at the corner to
cross. When the light changed from red to green, groups holding signs or
carrying mock coffins would stream across as quickly as possible. However, some
would be caught by a swiftly changing light and would find themselves stranded
on the traffic island for a time.
At one point, Nasci approached Martin and told him that
people couldn’t linger on the island, as it was a safety hazard. Martin
asked how people were supposed to avoid that. “I don’t know,”
replied Nasci, “but you’ll have to find a way.”
The vigil was meant to last approximately an hour. Near the
end of the hour, Martin was forced to warn participants they would have to move
their cars from spots in a nearby restaurant parking lot if they didn’t
want to have them ticketed and towed. The restaurant had received a complaint
from customers about not wanting to visit the restaurant due to the activity on
the street. When the restaurant realized that vigil participants had parked
many of their cars in prized parking spots directly in front of the parking
lot, rather than in the rear lot of the building, one of the servers asked if
the local police could “do something” about the problem. The police
response was to ticket all vehicles belonging to participants and to threaten
to tow any vehicle parked in the restaurant’s lot.
According to the restaurant’s on-duty night manager, “it’s
not fair for servers making 2.33 an hour to not have customers.” She
added that the restaurant had not called the police, or asked for vehicles to
be ticketed or towed, just that someone do something about participants taking
up the best customer parking places.
The vigil ended as peacefully as it had proceeded, with no
arrests or any kind of violence, though many participants will be paying the Village of West Milwaukee $40 parking violation
tickets in the days and weeks to come.