Two highly decorated Vietnam veterans published a full-page color ad picturing dozens of white cemetery crosses and an American flag for several days in the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer titled “An Open Letter to the Soldiers of Fort Benning.” Fort Benning is located in Columbus Georgia and is home to thousands of members of the U.S. Army. Calling the war in Iraq a mistake, veterans Charlie Litkey and Roy Bourgeois offered, as members of Veterans for Peace, to help active duty soldiers oppose the war.
Charlie Liteky was awarded a Congressional Medal Honor for saving 20 soldiers in Vietnam. Roy Bourgeois, now a Maryknoll priest, a Navy officer for four years, was awarded a Purple Heart during his tour of duty in Vietnam. Both vets have years of history at Fort Benning calling for the closure of the highly controversial School of the Americas, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. See www.soaw.org
Liteky and Bourgeois point out in their ad that Major General Paul Eaton, former commander of Fort Benning, told the U.S. Senate that “The U.S. has failed to secure the peace We went in with a bad plan. Stay the course is not a strategy.”
The ad also quotes Major General John Batiste, Commander of the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. Batiste, offered a promotion to become a three star general instead resigned over the war in Iraq, saying “Somebody had to speak out. If not me, who? How long are we going to continue down this road to nowhere?”
“How long must we support a mistake?” ask Liteky and Bourgeois in the letter. “Why should this country send more and more members of our military to their early graves in an attempt to justify the mistakes of the politicians in Washington?”
In bold letters over the picture of the gravesite white crosses, they wrote, “Bring the troops home!”
The ad concluded with an invitation. “For more information on how you can oppose the war in Iraq, write: Charlie Liteky, Medal of Honor Vietnam. Roy Bourgeois, Purple Heart, Veteran. Veterans for Peace. P.O. Box 3330, Columbus. GA 31903.
A June 7, 2007 letter to the editor of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, the primary newspaper in the area, with a circulation of about 50,000, was highly critical of the ad. “If it weren’t for our men in uniform fighting for our freedom, these two men would be in a jail somewhere. If Mr. Liteky and Roy Bourgeois don’t love our country, I suggest they pack their duffle bags and move to Iraq.”
Fr. Roy Bourgeois said the ad will continue to run, at least five times. “So far” he said, “we have received a couple of letters from soldiers asking how they can oppose the war. Some veterans have written supportive letters, some have criticized us.” The reaction of the local community? “Some are happy. Some are angry.” When asked how he reacts to angry people, Fr. Bourgeois said, “When people in the U.S. tell me how passionately they believe in the Iraq war, I ask them, then why the hell are you here instead of over there? Only cowards want other people to fight their wars for them.”
BILL QUIGLEY is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach him at Quigley@loyno.edu
For more information on the call for soldiers to resist the war in Iraq, write Veterans for Peace. P.O. Box 3330, Columbus. GA 31903.