Today, Memorial Day 2011, I joined the Weehawken Citizens for Peace in their Annual Memorial Day Vigil at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Weehawken, NJ, the end point of the Weehawken Memorial Day Parade. On display at this vigil was a list of the 109 soldiers with ties to NJ killed in Afghanistan since its beginning nearly 10 years ago. The Weehawken Citizens for Peace presence brought true meaning to the Memorial Day events by causing passers-by to think about those who have died in our most recent wars. Jim Dette, a founder of Weehawken Citizens for Peace, handed me a copy of a statement he read on Memorial Day 1974 when the WCP placed a wreath on the Soldiers & Sailors Monument. I reprint it here because it is so moving and could easily have been written today. Thank you, Jim and Evelyn, for sharing it with me today and helping to make this Memorial Day a more meaningful one.
THE WEEHAWKEN CITIZENS FOR PEACE
ON THE OCCASION OF PLACING A WREATH AT THE SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MONUMENT
MEMORIAL DAY 1974
Each war we have fought has always ended with the hope that this would be the last. With each comes a new resolution for world order and peace and “that the dead shall not have died in vain.”
We present this wreath in memory of those who died for their country especially those whose lives were wasted in the jungles and rice paddies of Southeast Asia.
It is more than a year now since we were told “we have peace with honor.” Our Soldiers have returned, our men held prisoners have come home to their families, their faces mute testimony to the horror millions have suffered because of this war. But there is no peace—the war wages on supported almost entirely by our tax dollar, the vet has not been welcomed but instead subjected to an unemployment rate far above the national average, many addicted to drugs, abandoned by the military and now congress is debating whether education benefits should be extended. And last, but not least, we have those who placed conscience above all else and refused to serve. Our president has said, “let us not dishonor those who served their country by granting amnesty to those who deserted America.” But in the words of one mother whose son was killed in Vietnam: “The only way we dishonor those who dies is to learn nothing from them—to repeat the past and continue our present course of action.”
How can we as a nation founded in dissent not find it in our hearts to grant universal and unconditional amnesty to those who have refused to fight in a war we have come to realize was a ghastly blunder, an unwarranted intervention?
It will be then and only then that we will truly honor our dead by binding up all the wounds we have suffered and that we resolve once and for all that the dead have not died in vain.
May 27, 1974.