Honor veterans - Not the wars!

by Daniel Borgström

"Honor veterans -- not the wars!" we chanted, addressing the military brass in the reviewing stand. "This is what we're marching for."

That was on Nov 10th in San Francisco. We were the Veterans for Peace contingent, participating in the annual Veterans Day parade. There were about forty of us in our group, carrying antiwar banners, signs, and flags displaying the VFP dove emblem, along with various slogans. "Peace is Patriotic," said one banner, another read: "Free Chelsea Manning." A guitarist sang antiwar songs as we strode along the parade route.

Our group included veterans from several wars, including Vietnam and Cambodia and more recent wars. Some younger veterans brought their children. Marching next to me was a guy who'd been at Bien Hoa in 1967 and 1968. He showed me his hand; the ends of his fingers were missing.

Other participating groups in this parade were ROTC units, bands, and drill teams. There was even a truck towing an old helicopter, escorted by a bunch of Hells Angel-type motorcyclists. They roared noisily along, gunning their engines, circling back and forth, round and round the helicopter. Such is to be expected; this was after all a "lifer" event, a day on which military types and right-wingers come out of the woodwork to celebrate their wars. For some people, it's a war mongers festival.

Nevertheless, not all groups seemed to be openly pro-war. The numerous bands and drill teams could be part of any parade. Several labor unions were represented, and there was even a contingent which looked very much like a protest group and displayed signs reading "People united will never be defeated." United -- but for what? Whatever their cause may have been, they were not promoting it, not even saying it. They seemed to be trying very hard not to offend the lifers and other right-wingers.

As far as I could tell, we were the only contingent with an antiwar, pro-peace message. We were there to say that as former military personnel, we spoke from experience and were telling people that these wars are a bad idea.

The parade route took us up Market Street towards the Civic Center, about a mile. Spectators were gathered mostly along the first couple blocks of the route. Their response to us? We didn't expect overwhelming enthusiasm -- a lot of the onlookers were probably pro-military and pro-war. Peace can be controversial, and we knew we weren't going to be preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, the response was not hostile, we were modestly well received. A good many people waved to us.

That was the first few blocks. For the rest of the route up Market Street the sidewalks were nearly empty. A few groups of viewers were here and there, perhaps they just happened to be in town this day and were looking to see what was going on. They waved a friendly response. Some told us they were glad to see us here.

Marching up this nearly empty street, I glanced around at some of the historically interesting buildings along this route, like the Flood Building at the corner of Powell and Market. In one of the upstairs offices, the South Vietnamese puppet government used to have a consulate, and back in
December 1971 a group of us antiwar veterans occupied it. We were arrested and charged with trespassing, but at the end of a four-week trial the jury acquitted us. That was almost 43 years ago. And here we are, several wars later.

More blocks of empty sidewalks, and we turned up McAllister which was also deserted, and finally came to the reviewing stand in front of city hall. The stand was full of military brass, which saluted each contingent as it passed. They also saluted us, or most of them did; probably they were embarrassed and didn't know what else to do. We turned to them, and chanted in unison:

"Honor veterans -- not the wars!
This is what we're marching for."

After repeating that several times, we left. That was the end of the parade. We said our message, respectfully, and though probably resenting us, the brass acted respectfully. In the past it has not always been this cordial.
In 1971, police attacked us in front of the reviewing stand , and the lifer emcee then thanked the police "for a job well done." The following year we marched again, and at the reviewing stand turned our backs to the brass and saluted the crowd of onlookers who cheered us. That was four decades ago. Since then antiwar veterans have marched in a good many of the Veterans Day parades in San Francisco. A few of us who had marched back in '71 and '72 were there again today, marching as Veterans for Peace.


Veteran Occupiers 1971

The Death of Sgt. Van Dale Todd

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