See here for Chicago braces for final day of anti-NATO protests as demonstrators march on Boeing HQ
Reuters / May 20, 2012
Nearly 50 U.S. military veterans at an anti-NATO rally in Chicago threw their service medals into the street on Sunday, an action they said symbolized their rejection of the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of the veterans, many wearing military uniform shirts over black anti-war t-shirts, choked back tears as they explained their actions. Others folded an American flag while a bugle played “Taps,” which is typically performed at U.S. military funerals.
“The medals are supposed to be for acts of heroism. I don’t feel like a hero. I don’t feel like I deserve them,” said Zach LaPorte, who served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. LaPorte, a 28-year-old mechanical engineer from Milwaukee, said he enlisted in the Army at 19 because he felt there were few other options. At the time, he could not afford to stay in college.
“I witnessed civilian casualties and civilians being arrested in what I consider an illegal occupation of a sovereign nation,” LaPorte said. He said he was glad the United States had withdrawn its combat troops from Iraq, but said he did not believe the NATO military alliance was going to leave Afghanistan.
On Sunday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen opened the two-day summit of the 26-member alliance saying there would be no hasty exit from Afghanistan.
A veteran from New York who only gave his name as Jerry said: “I don’t want any part of this anymore. I chose human life over war, militarism and imperialism.”
The veterans had hoped to present their medals to a NATO representative. The closest they could get was the fence ringing the McCormick Place convention center about a block from where U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders were meeting. The veterans threw their medals toward the convention center.
Matt Howard, 29, who served in the Marines from 2001 to 2006, said the rate of suicides among veterans returning from the wars is high. “These medals are not worth the cloth and steel they’re printed on. They’re representative of failed policies,” said Howard, a spokesman for Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Former U.S. Army Sergeant Alejandro Villatoro, 29, of Chicago, served during the Iraq 2003 invasion and in Afghanistan in 2011. He said he suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression and gave back three medals – one “War on Terrorism” medal, one for participating in the Iraq war and a NATO medal from the Afghanistan war. He said he wants the war in Afghanistan to end.
“There’s no honor in these wars,” said Villatoro, before he threw away his medals. “There’s just shame.”
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By Miranda Leitsinger /msnbc.com / May 20, 2012
Updated 9 p.m. ET: CHICAGO — Dozens of anti-war veterans tossed their medals onto a Chicago street Sunday near where NATO began its two-day summit, calling them “representations of hate,” “lies” and “cheap tokens,” and with some making emotional pleas for forgiveness from the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.
With many dressed in military fatigues, they had filed through the streets in formation, chanting “N-A-T-O, NATO has got to go,” and “No NATO, no war, we don’t work for you no more,” leading about 2,000 protesters on a 2.5-mile march.
After “retiring” an American flag they carried through the streets and giving it to a woman whose soldier son committed suicide, they began hurtling their war service medals into the air — a rare form of protest that was last done on a large scale by 900 Vietnam veterans in 1971.
The protesters cheered the post 9/11-era veterans on, clapping and yelling, “give them back!”
“I choose human life over war,” Jerry Bordeleau shouted through a microphone, before tossing the medals onto the street.
Members of Afghans for Peace stood alongside the veterans, holding the Afghan flag and making speeches, too.
“All we have is this flag, but not our sovereign land. I’d like to direct my message to the NATO representatives here in Chicago today. For what you’ve done to my home country, I’m enraged; for what you’ve done to my people, I’m disgusted; for what you’ve done to these veterans, I’m heartbroken,” said Suraia Sahar. “I sympathize with their disappointment and being failed by the system and having their lives, their morals and humanity, toiled with.”
Another man said he was representing deserters who can’t come back to the U.S. and threw many of their medals away.
Steven Acheson, an Army veteran who before the march said he had been waiting a long time for this moment, though he was also anxious about it, threw away his medals for the children of Iraq and Afghanistan.
“May they be able to forgive us for what we have done to them, may we begin to heal and may we live in peace from here till eternity,” he said.
Organizers had hoped 10,000 people would attend the 2.5-mile march that ended near McCormick Place, the convention center where NATO is meeting. But a Chicago city official put the crowd at around 2,000.
After the nearly three-hour march, skirmishes broke out between riot police and a small group of so-called “black bloc” protesters trying to push their way closer to the summit site. Members of the crowd, some wearing bandanas over their faces, threw large sticks, liquids and bottles at the police. Officers handcuffed several protesters and dragged them away.
Police arrested 45 people and four officers were injured, including one who was stabbed in the leg, said Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, according to NBC Chicago. Authorities were testing a liquid substance found in a backpack, and police used their batons because o