Anti-military veterans and supporters gathered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Monday to commemorate fallen soldiers, share personal experiences and raise awareness about veteran suicide.
“This event means remembering that we knew who have fallen, remembering the people that we know that are still hurting from [the war in Vietnam] as well as the current wars,” said Joe Miller, 73, a member of the Champaign-Urbana chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
“It’s to counter all of the barbecues, and the sales and all of that stuff which delegitimizes the service. It should not be about ‘I am going to get 20 percent off at a restaurant.’ It’s all about remembering people who put their lives on the line.”
The 90-minute event introduced seven speakers who addressed several issues including gender inequality in military combat roles, the understaffing of Veterans Affairs medical centers, and the use of veterans in political campaigns.
British peace activist Maya Evans, 36, said the U.S., Britain and other European countries need to do more for those who return from war.
“They don’t receive adequate health care, they aren’t receiving the support they need after PTSD, many are homeless and end up committing suicide because of the trauma and stress they’ve experienced in these wars,” said Evans, who carried a sign reading, “War decreases the security of America and the world.”
Miller said the event has been put on every year for 40 plus years. VVAW began to organize the event in concert with Iraq Veterans Against the War organization (IVAW) in 2004.
War veteran Ken Nielsen, 45, said the Memorial Day event is a large indication of the seriousness and prevalence of issues such as veteran suicide and homelessness — and the community should be informed.
“As a society we don’t really talk about it,” Nielsen said. “It’s something that’s only brought up on Memorial Day or maybe on Veteran’s Day, but not on a daily basis – it should be.”