Walter Reed Vigil Report No. 9
War Day 1,226
Tonight was bittersweet for the vigilers. Two of our most stalwart compatriots are leaving the area. We're sorry to see them go. The strong autumnal wind rushing down Georgia Avenue carries with it memories of these past nine months. I can remember arriving for my first nights at the vigil with the proud pink banner, "Support the troops. Bring them home now." Ellen would be standing there in her long pink dress and broad brimmed hat. She lit candles for us and stuck them in Styrofoam cups that gradually melted away as the evening passed.
People have come from all over the country to stand at the vigil, some from other countries. I remember the night the Peace Delegate from Oregon, who came to pay a visit to Congress, stood the two hour vigil. More recently, the Reverend Graylon Hagler and his wife, a reverend of her own congregation, stood the vigil, led us in song, and closed the evening with a prayer for us all.
Many veterans have stood the vigil, from World War II through the current war in Iraq. Mothers and other family members of active duty soldiers have come to stand in front of Walter Reed Medical Center. There is our stalwart active duty Navy nurse who stands the vigil on his off duty hours.
And then there are the soldiers and workers who have come outside to speak to us. They have told us their stories: the soldier suffering from the affects of depleted uranium, his internal organs failing one by one, still dreaming of living in Hawaii; the soldier who enlisted in order to help support his mother and siblings but now being forced out of the service by the wounds he suffered; the soldier who fiercely told us we were wrong and just as fiercely stood by our right to be here; the mother who spent the last seven months by the side of her brain-damaged son inside Walter Reed told us she agreed completely with the vigil and seeing us out here every Friday gives her hope; and a mother who told us, "Just because I have a son inside Walter Reed does not mean I support this war."
Union members, Gray Panthers, members of DAWN, Plymouth United Congregational Church and even the ISO have come to stand the vigil. We are a wonderfully diverse group.
When the vigil came under vicious attack from Republican Party members, Rolling Thunder bikers, and the Freepers, people from all over the metro area came to make a stand. When surveyed, the residents in the community resoundingly supported the presence of the vigil. People driving past honk their horns in support; some call out "Yes, bring them home!" Once a happy father called out, "My son came home today!" Some of the drivers of the medical buses honk when they see us. DC police officers have told us that, "You are standing there for us. We can't stand with you but we agree with what you are doing." Workers and soldiers from inside Walter Reed have told us, "Thank you for being there."
Earlier on, there were the hostile remarks from some. It seemed for a while that at least once each Friday night someone would yell "F--- Y---!" from a passing car. Some people driving out of the grounds of Walter Reed would make a point of driving across the street to hank support for the Freepers. One very badly wounded soldier, filled with the bitterness of his experience, asked us to leave. But this sort of thing has almost entirely ended-no more catcalls from cars, whether they agree with the presence of the vigil or not soldiers talk to us in a civil, friendly manner. Workers continue to tell us thank you for being here. As one soldier put it, pointing to our "Bring them home" banner, "That is the way to support the troops."
Tonight, with the wind blowing down the avenue, the vigil continued.
We were impressed that the Washington Post did a front page, top of the fold, story on the hounding of wounded soldiers by the military-billing them for lost equipment, "excess" pay, rent, etc-so much for honoring those who served and paid with their bodies. Is it okay now to ask why companies like Halliburton are not asked to repay what they have stolen from our soldiers? Is it okay now to ask when we will have to pay for what we have stolen and destroyed in Iraq? Slowly but surely, many more people in this country are coming to the conclusion that it is not only possible to bring our troops home now, it is the right thing to do for us and the Iraqis.