By Steve Jusseaume
The Hampton Union, Friday, March 21, 2003
[Staff photo by Jackie Ricciardi]
HAMPTON - While several peace groups are scheduling vigils in Exeter as well as across the state to protest America's involvement in bombing Iraq, local veterans are quietly voicing their support for the war and for the troops stationed throughout the world.
At the American Legion Post 35 in Hampton, veterans held a meeting Monday night and another small discussion group Wednesday. No public rally is planned, but more than a dozen local vets did attend the funeral of a Stratham soldier killed in a helicopter crash at Fort Drum, N.Y.
Army Pfc. Andrew Stevens was laid to rest at Maple Lane Cemetery in Stratham Thursday morning, following a service at the Stratham Community Church. American Legion Post 35 Cmdr. Ralph Fatello led a contingent of Hampton veterans in attending the funeral services.
"We went as a show of support, not only for Stevens but for all the troops fighting in this conflict," Fatello said.
Fatello urged all Americans to put their "personal perspectives aside" and support the troops that have put themselves in harm's way for the sake of democracy.
"Monday we gathered as a group at the Legion hall. We watched (war preparations) on a 6-inch portable TV Joe Kutt had brought in," Fatello laughed. "We don't have cable at the Legion. Here we all were, huddled around a tiny screen."
Fatello remembers telling the veterans, "These are historic times, gentlemen."
Plans were still being put into place by several peace activist groups after the first bombs fell in Baghdad early Thursday morning (late Wednesday evening Eastern time).
Marion Mengert of the social justice committee at the Unitarian Church in Exeter said vigils will be held at several venues, including downtown Exeter in front of Town Hall at 5 p.m. tonight.
"We anticipate the first vigil will take place the night after the war happens," said Mengert, who has attended two evening vigils in front of the Exeter Town Hall the past two Fridays.
"I am, we all have been, appalled at the actions of our government, actions not based on any solid information. Diplomacy has not been given sufficient chance, the U.N. inspectors have not been given a chance. It's important to show people in other parts of the world that not all Americans are arrogant," said Mengert, stressing that she and others involved in the vigils and protests should not be seen as opposed to the troops.
"We have American flags at our vigils. We sing "America the Beautiful." You can be opposed to war and still be patriotic. Inherent in what we are doing is support of our troops in the field," she said.
Donna Schlachman, also a member of the social justice committee, said the church continues to support the Friday evening vigils downtown, and might offer services at the church on Elm Street for those who might want "a more spiritual venue" for prayer.
Pending international and national affairs, events are planned for Manchester, Concord, Portsmouth, Keene and Laconia this weekend. Events are being planned by several groups, including N.H. Peace Action and Seacoast Peace Response.
"We're planning events as we go, everything is very fluid right now," a spokesperson from the Unitarian Church said yesterday.
Schlachman expressed her compassion for the families of U.S. servicemen oversees.
"I cannot imagine what people who have family overseas are going through, what they are feeling ... it's so sad," she said.
Mengert, 73, recalled the protests of the 1960s. "Those were interesting times, but I never participated in those protests, I was busy raising a family," she said. "But it's different today. Somebody has to say something. I've been to the last two Friday night vigils, and I expect people to show up tonight. I know I'll be there."
Veterans are taking a much lower-key approach.
John MacInnes, Ken Sheffert, Carl Richardson and Ralph Fatello of Hampton, George Masten of Stratham and Joe Kutt of North Hampton joined in the discussion Wednesday evening at the High Street American Legion and talked about the war effort, Iraq, terrorism, the United Nations and the anti-war movement.
Fatello began the hour-long discussion: "The world has changed since 9/11. If anyone out there doesn't think that Saddam Hussein hasn't trained some of the terrorists, or couldn't hand (biological or chemical) weapons to terrorists ... I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.
"We're not just now going to war. We've been at war. And I say, take it to them," he continued.
Has Iraq gotten rid of its weapons?
"Absolutely not," said Richardson, who served during the Gulf War. "Even as he was supposed to be disarming, Hussein was developing new weapons. We need to support this country and our troops. ... Nobody wants war, but we are dealing with an irrational individual."
"Saddam simply hasn't abided by the Gulf treaty in the early '90s," noted Sheffert.
"A bully," added MacInnes, who served from 1942 to 45. Which led the group to another subject: Adolf Hitler.
MacInnes recalled fighting in France during World War II and decried the Allies' allowing Hitler to talk one story and act another.
"Think what would be different today if the Allies had taken out Hitler in 1937 instead of appeasing him for so long," Masten asked.
"It took years for the Allies to take notice of Hitler. That can't happen with Saddam," Kutt said.
"The French just caved in then, just like they're doing today," added MacInnes.
"The lack of support from the French is disappointing, it's discouraging. There are 29,000 reasons why the French should be right there with us today," Fatello said, referring to the Americans who died on French soil in World War II.
"This is a very different war than World War II. Terrorism has been going on for years. ... We're fighting a shadow enemy today," MacInnes said.
"I don't see anyone protesting the torture of innocent people under Saddam's regime," noted Sheffert.
"I think what we'll find once we get in there is thousands of Iraqi people thanking the United States for coming in," added Fatello.
Richardson said he has seen protesters carrying signs reading "No More Orphans."
"I would ask them, what about the orphans left from the 9/11 attacks?"
All six veterans agreed that the United Nations has been rendered irrelevant by its inaction in dealing with terrorism in general and Saddam Hussein in particular.
"How do you let 700,000 people die in Rwanda?" asked Fatello.
"The U.N. might as well close its door and let everyone go home," added MacInnes.
Kutt, who served during the Vietnam conflict, urged support for America and disputed the anti-war protesters' arguments.
"Somebody's got to stand up and fight terrorism," he said. "The anti-war people can have their say, but they forget ... that America doesn't want to control Iraq. We want the Iraqi people to control their own country, not a dictator."
Fatello suggested the "real hero" might be the Iraqi general who "has the courage to stand up and pop Saddam in the back of the head."
"Doubt that'll ever happen," responded Kutt.
"But a dictator is like a school bully. He's just going to keep doing what he wants until someone stands up to him. And it's time we show Saddam we're not going to take it anymore."