Friday, January 4, 2008

From War to Peace: Why You Joined VFP

Leah Bolger

What moved you from being someone who is willing to wage war to someone who now wages peace?

To be very honest with you, I'm not sure I was ever really willing to "wage war." I joined the U.S. Navy in 1980 because I needed a job. In those days women could not be given any combatant billets-we were all lumped into a group called "General Unrestricted Line Officers" or "GURLs" (Can you believe it?!) For the bulk of the time that I was on active duty (1980 to 2000), the U.S. was not involved in combat operations/war with anyone, so I didn't really have to face the moral dilemma of participating in an organization that "waged war." Although I qualified as an "expert" pistol shooter, (it was required in order to be the Duty Officer at several stations), my qualification shooting was the first time I had ever fired a gun, and I'm not sure I could shoot someone if asked to. Throughout my military career, I was pretty much the "odd woman out" politically-when I was a student at the Naval War College, I wrote papers on the value of the United Nations, and conflict resolution.

Why did you join VFP?

While I was on active duty, I believed that I wasn't allowed to join an organization like VFP. I knew I wasn't allowed to protest or speak out against our military policies. Although I believed in the values of VFP, I waited until I had been discharged to join. As our country has become more bellicose and misguided, I have become more outspoken and active with the peace movement. I am involved with several other peace organizations, but I feel that as a veterans' organization, we have more credibility and power in advocating for peace than some other organizations.

What have been your successes in recruiting new members to VFP?

I am very proud to be the founder of Chapter 132, but getting the initial 10 members wasn't easy. Basically, I just did a lot of personal asking. I solicited members from the Benton County Democrats by speaking at a Central Committee meeting and got two members there. One time I saw a group of older men having lunch at a restaurant and I noticed that one of them had a copy of The Nation magazine on the table. I just walked up to them and said: "Hello Gentlemen! My name is Leah Bolger and I am a 20 year veteran of the Navy. I am forming a chapter of Veterans for Peace, and I can tell by your reading material that we may be of like mind...are any of you fellows veterans?" I think three of our members came out of that encounter! After I scraped up the initial 10 and we received our charter, I contacted our local newspaper, the Corvallis Gazette-Times. They did a nice article on us, and advertised our upcoming meeting, at which over 20 people showed up, several of whom joined VFP. I try to get our membership to wear VFP t-shirts, buttons and ballcaps as often as possible, because that frequently will initiate a conversation and an invitation to join. I speak fairly frequently at rallies, vigils, etc., and I have also spoken to two Kiwanis Club chapters. I always identify myself with VFP and invite others (not just vets) to join us. Our chapter frequently sponsors other community events, and we participate in local 4th of July, Veterans' Day, and Holiday parades. We try to keep our name and the VFP logo in the spotlight as much as possible. Additionally, I carry business cards with me with the VFP logo and my contact information. When someone remarks on my button or t-shirt, I give them a card and ask them to contact me.

Pat Tate

What moved you from being someone who is willing to wage war to someone who now wages peace?

pat tate

I have gone through many transitions in that regard. I was in fact a conscientious objector prior to my reclassification to 1-A and subsequent enlistment to avoid a combat infantry assignment. I had read the writings of Lord Bertrand Russell extensively during the mid-60's and felt that I wanted no part of war. However I was unable to find anyone who could assist me in pursuing CO status and as the draft began to chase me I feared prison more than war.

My conversion to being pro-war came as a part of the US Army basic (brainwashing) training. I became a grudging convert.

I can proudly say that I was fortunate in that I never had to fire directly at the 'enemy'. I was assigned as a "senior field wireman," a job that really did not exist and I actually worked as a supply clerk (scrounger) with the assignment to provide the members of my 105mm Howitzer Battery with minimal basic necessities. I was responsible for getting food and other items to my unit which was split between two Special Forces camps in Da Nang province, near the Cambodian border. Access was by air only.

I learned much about the stupidity of the military and as time progressed determined that, though I would do my basic job, I was unwilling to 'wage war' against any enemy that was not shooting at me first.

By the time of my discharge I was once again ready to take a stand against war. I spoke out within my own unit in Germany, where I was sent after Vietnam and continued to do so upon returning to my home. I did however have PTSD and survival was more of a criteria to me than activism.

It was not until the Iraq invasion started heating up that I felt it necessary to reactivate and hit the streets once again.

Why did you join VFP?

In 1998 I had met Fredy Champagne of Chapter 22 in Garberville CA at an Arts Festival where he was staffing an information table and I was selling pottery. We had a brief conversation and I had my first exposure to VFP. The activities he told me about lay dormant in my memory.

Fredy had told me of his trips to Vietnam to rebuild and heal. At the time of this meeting he was raising funds to take a local Little League team to Cuba. All of his activities were 'illegal', they violated sanctions that the government had imposed, but they spoke deeply to me about how by reaching out a hand in friendship we would find that we have no enemies. I felt that if this was what VFP stood for then it was the group for me.

I joined VFP in April 2003 and as our invasion of Iraq continued I wanted to stop the insanity. Fredy helped me through the infancy of forming Chapter 116 in Mendocino County and has been a valued friend ever since.

What have been your successes in recruiting new members to VFP?

I never hesitated to reach out to other veterans. I partcipate in a local VA sponsored 'PTSD support group' and spoke to my fellow veterans about VFP. Some were resistant to any organization, but over time they have all expressed to me that they see value in what I do. I do not try to convert them, just to give them a regular brush with who we are and what we seek in terms of a future.

Probably though my greatest impact on membership came in 2005 when I took my bus "The White Rose" to the Dallas convention, on to Crawford TX and on again to Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Those actions undertaken by an impromptu group of VFP members raised the name of Veterans For Peace into the national media. No, we were not alone, there were Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families for Peace and Code Pink, just to name a few.

Suddenly though, the media recognized us, Veterans For Peace, we were not willing to follow leaders into unnecessary war. We envisioned a New World Order, not of domination and destruction, but of cooperation and trust.

Fredy Champagne

fredy champagneWhat moved you from being someone who is willing to wage war to someone who now wages peace?

I joined the US Army in the summer of 1965, before we knew anything abut Viet Nam. I was un-educated about politics at that time in my life. Upon arriving in country (Lai Khe), late 65, I was immediately exposed to the hypocrisy and lies of the war effort. It was apparent our job as a combat infantryman was to slaughter young people like ourselves. Only these people were guilty of nothing more than defending their homeland. I was appalled at the atrocities I observed, and lack of respect for civilian casualties. I was awestruck by the will of the Vietnamese people to stand up to the mightiest military machine the world had ever known, with nothing more than popguns, and win the support of their people. I learned the hard way about imperialism. I survived somehow, came home not very proud, and waged my own war against the system, against the army, against the war. I suffered and struggled many years with severe PTSD and lived in the mountains of Northern California preparing for the next American Revolution.

Why did you join VFP?

I had been organizing a project to take VN veterans back into Viet Nam to do humanitarian aid work on clinics and orphanages and search for healing, hoping to end the Trade Embargo against the Vietnamese. While recruiting vets to go to Vietnam with us, we ran into VFP members in Santa Cruz (Ruben Gomez, Steve Brooks) who influenced me to organize a chapter of our own in Garberville, CA. Our project to build the first medical clinic since the war was built in early 89, and opened on April 1st, 1989 in Vung Tau. Most of the team of 17 veterans on this trip were VFP members from Northern California and Oregon. Out of this project came Chapter 22 of Veterans for Peace. Information on teams of veterans returning to Viet Nam to do humanitarian aid work can be found at the website of the Veterans - Viet Nam Restoration Project at:

What have been your successes in recruiting new members to VFP?

For many years in the late 80s and 90s, my best recruiting tool has been the many trips back and forth to Viet Nam on various projects and peace walks and veterans tours. I met and spoke with a great many veterans and was always able to bring VFP into the conversation. Any organizer that really works out there in the field with veterans can do the same thing, networking at it's best.

Our next most successful recruiting tool has been our beloved "Spirit of Garberville" peace bus that we have owned and operated for many years. We used that bus for many demonstrations, parades, protests, fairs, and events, and trips cross-country from Seattle to Boston, from Ft Benning to So-Cal, to Chiapas, Mexico and back. All of our trips resulted in media coverage, speaking events, and networking with organizations across the country. Our bus was always on the road with slogans, etc. and we were always attracting and meeting new members. Our bus was financed by a yearly sponsorship program that had the names of a dozen or more local businesses, groups or individuals painted on the rear decklid. At about $300 a pop for each per year, our budget usually allowed us to keep our bus up as a chapter project. Exposure, that's it. Our bus and it's traditions have been passed along to the VFP chapter in Eugene, and many thanks to the brave men and women of Oregon who continue to operate this Peace Bus as they continue to wage peace. Every chapter should get a bus, a van, truck or some other prop for use as above. Parades attract a lot of attention, whether you are admited, thrown out, or sucessfully march with the mases. New members see you, think about you, and call or track you down later.

Donald Storing

donald storingWhat moved you from being someone who is willing to wage war to someone who now wages peace?

I was drafted in September 1972 just before starting my last term at M.S.U. I knew carrying a M-16 in Viet Nam didn't have too much positive too look forward to so I enlisted in the USAF under their 90 day delayed enlistment so I could graduate, which I did in December of 1972. I did think about going to Canada, which was somewhat popular at the time, but being a newly-wed, I didn't think it would be fair to my wife to haul to Canada knowing it may be difficult to come back. I have an identical twin brother who was a conscientious objector and went through the hassle of getting his classification. I guess in retrospect I took the easy way out by enlisting. I didn't expect to be in combat so in my own way, back then I justified my decision, I would be relatively safe and out of harms way and not killing anyone. Once I was in and doing my job,which was a telecommunications technical controller, I realized I wasn't directly involved in the killing machine, but I was performing a support function for it. Even back then my comrades knew I wasn't in favor of the war, but I did put up with it for my own sake I guess.

I have always been a follower of Christ, and by virtue of that fact, war in and of itself has been against my personal views. I just can't see how anyone can profess to be a Christian and at the same time suggest that it's possible to condone fighting and killing for political interests. Period. The older and more weathered I get, the stronger I feel about this. I'm now spiritually, economically and socially comfortable enough to voice my opinions public without fear of retribution and I do so. I have been blessed for whatever reason so I believe it is my responsibility to do what I think it right and just even if it does incur the wrath of others. Be that as it may, I sleep like a rock every night knowing I have done what I want to be remembered for, not what was easy or acceptable to the wealthy or those who believe there is some sort of convoluted righteousness in war.

Why did you join VFP?

VFP is a group of men and women who have tasted the wreckage of war and I believe also feel that it is their duty to try to set things on the correct path. By setting an example to the rest of society that saving lives is always better than eliminating them, it has to be our hope than we can change mankind's determination that our own ideas and beliefs are superior to others and war is a way to ensure our own triumph.

What have been your successes in recruiting new members to VFP?

I have been successful in bringing a few people to the VFP family but I try to pass the word by proudly wearing my VFP hats, pins, and tags so everyone can see them. When they ask what they represent, I try to explain the virtues of peace vs. the tragedies of war. I then let them draw whatever conclusions they may glean from the encounter.

Sidney Hollander

sidney hollanderWhat moved you from being someone who is willing to wage war to someone who now wages peace?

We were attacked and I saw no alternative to being drafted in 1944.

Why did you join VFP?

Was a member of American Veterans Committee, a liberal WWII group, which closed as we do indeed. Years later I heard of VFP, local chapter head spoke to our local peace group in the retirement home after 9/11, and it sounded good. I already belonged to other non-vet groups and still do.

What have been your successes in recruiting new members to VFP?

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