They came in peace, because they had seen war, and lived with violence.
Representing the nationally organized Veterans for Peace, former Vietnam-era Marine Doug Zachary and Hart Viges, who served with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army in Iraq, were happy to see the little more than 50 people who gathered at Adams Street Community Center on Saturday.
In Boston, a huge city, only 90 had come for a program. “We’ve had crowds of two or three, in some places. This was a good crowd, good people,” Zachary said.
The program, with questions and discussion, lasted longer than two hours, and addressed, as Zachary said in his opening comments, “the process of war that has continued for all of the 40,000 generations since our species has existed.”
Zachary read his story in the book “Veterans for Peace, Veterans for War,” compiled and edited by Maxine Hong Kingston, and available at the meeting for a donation. His chapter, titled “Last Call on the Farm,” recalled the painful memory of returning to Collin County for the funerals of his father and uncle who died in a violent murder and suicide.
The family’s dysfunction had for years preceded that final episode. Zachary explained he learned fear and violence growing up in an orphan’s home and had learned it well enough that he could be “exceptionally cruel.” He joined the Marines in 1968, and earned a top score on every test the Marines put in front of him.
In a process that came slowly, Zachary said, he eventually discovered the alternative to war. “I want to make and be at peace,” he said. “To this day I am uncertain about my behavior.” It has taken a long time to learn not to respond to anger with anger, violence with violence, but the process has been worthwhile, he added.
Of the veterans coming home now, or who are veterans of past era wars and conflicts and who suffer now or have suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Zachary said, “working for peace is the best cure” for them.
When a veteran comes into the Veterans for Peace organization, he has the opportunity to tell his worst most horrific war story. With that effort, which always involves tears, remorse and grief, the healing can begin.
Viges, a 1994 San Angelo Central High School graduate, went to the Army recruiter’s office Sept. 12, 2001.
“I voted for Bush in 2000,” Viges said. “I listened to Rush Limbaugh every day at noon on the radio. The day after 9-11, I went to the Army recruiter and I said ‘Give me Airborne and give me infantry.’”
Within the month, he said, he was training at Fort Benning, Ga., and by February 2003, he was with his unit in Kuwait, awaiting orders to go into Iraq.
With the invasion, and as the months wore on, Viges said he was continually struck by the humanity of the Iraqi people. And the stress of the almost constant warfare began taking a huge toll.
“I felt like there was a midget inside my chest with a knife, trying to get out.
“I’m not here to tell you there is one way and only one way, but when I look for answers, I look for a mentor, a teacher. I found a book, which I was familiar with. I found the great teacher, Jesus Christ,” Viges said and quoted Matthew 1:12, the familiar golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“Jesus went even further. ‘Love your enemy,’ he said.”
Both Zachary and Viges got out of the military as conscientious objectors, each with honorable discharges.
“I’ve dedicated my life to this, for love,” Viges said. “It’s not weak to love. The bravest thing anyone can do is love one another. True courage lies in love and that love does not change in outer circles.
“Forgive one another. That’s another big strength.”
The event was organized through numerous local efforts, including those of Brad Confer and Susie Lewis. For more information, go to the Veterans for Peace web site: www.veteransforpeace.