NATO Summit: Why the Soldiers Marched ...

Video: DePaul student and Iraq war veteran Jonathon Anderson marches at the
rally and returns his medals. (Video by Josclynn Brandon and Angelica Robinson)

NATO logoBy Josclynn Brandon and Angelica Robinson
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, May 21, 2012

As a group of Iraqi war veterans marched to Grant Park in two single-file lines, Mary Kirkland stood out among the crowd.

Standing no taller than five feet, it was hard to miss her oversized white T-shirt that read "Mother Against War."

 Kirkland along with nearly 40 veterans participated in a march through downtown Chicago that concluded with a ceremony outside McCormick Place, where they gave medals earned during the war.

At the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Cermak Road, veterans threw their medals in the direction of McCormick Place, where NATO leaders gathered for the annual conference.

“I am here to support the Iraqi vets,” she said. “I admire their decision to return the medals.”

Kirkland isn’t a veteran of war. Her son, Derrick Kirkland, is. He spent 15 months on tour the first time. After his first tour he went back to serve another term.

Like Kirkland’s son, Jonathon Anderson was deployed to Iraq twice. As a sergeant in the U.S. Marines, Anderson worked as a Communication Specialist where his primary responsibility was to ensure that the killings happened as efficiently as possible.

"For me it weighs heavily to realize that I played such an instrumental part of bringing suffering to so many people," said Anderson.

Anderson, like several other anti-war veterans who participated in the protests, felt like they had been lied to.

"We were told that we were going over there for the Iraqi people," said Anderson. "But when we went over there we were against the Iraqi people."

Medals were awarded to soldiers as an honor for accomplishing missions. Veterans against war are making a statement that they feel their participation in the war was dishonorable.

“Because I feel the war is unjust,” explained Anderson, “It's a statement saying I don't want your honor and I don't want the tokens of what you believe is an honor."

Anderson, now a peace studies major at DePaul University, said he is learning that there are nonviolent ways to resolve conflict.

During the protest Anderson walked behind Kirkland, who marched hand-in-hand with civil-rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson. Jackson said he wants the people to respect the statement the veterans are making.

"It’s a conscientious decision,” said Jackson. “They signed up for the military and they are painfully rejecting the idea of more war and we should respect that.”

Jackson agreed that NATO and the U.S. need to pull the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He encourages the people to choose “peace and coexistence over war and annihilation." 

Jackson went on to say that too often veterans are unemployed, homeless and are left to deal with physical and mental scars that war can cause.

Photo by Josclynn Brandon

The Rev. Jesse Jackson holds Mary Kirkland's hand
during the march. (Photo by Josclynn Brandon)

Kirkland’s son, Derrick, fell victim to the hardships that many soldiers endure. Six months into his second term in Iraq, her son attempted to commit suicide for the first time. This was the first of three attempts.

He was eventually sent to his home base of Fort Lewis in Wash. Three days after being released from the hospital and deemed a low-risk for suicide, Derrick hung himself. He was 23 years old.

"I truly thought that once my son got home on American soil he was safe,” Kirkland said. “The leadership there at Fort Lewis did not protect him."

A year after her son’s death she found out there had been 11 more suicides at Fort Lewis.

As Kirkland told her son’s story on stage at the ceremony to thousands of protesters, she became overwhelmed with emotion. Even some listening became visibly emotional.

One veteran told the audience to take their emotion and hold it close to their heart.

Kirkland was presented with an American flag on behalf of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. They promised that they would continue to fight against illegal and unjust wars in the name of her son Derrick.

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