Aging veterans build online honor roll of fallen comrades

NEW YORK Sun May 25, 2014 5:54pm EDT

1 of 3. A shopper walks past a giant U.S. flag on display, ahead of the Memorial Day holiday, in a department store in Chicago, Illinois, May 23, 2014.

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Air Force veteran Don Skinner, 83, wakes at dawn's early light, downs a cholesterol pill, blood thinner and some instant coffee then boots up his computer to spend eight hours each day telling war stories of the fallen who can't speak for themselves.

The reverential routine is a calling for Skinner, the oldest of 200 volunteers who create online profiles of men and women who died in the line of duty. These accounts can be viewed in a Roll of Honor on the website, an online meeting place for veterans and their loved ones.

"These people's stories have got to be told," said Skinner, who was awarded a Purple Heart Medal and a Bronze Star Medal as a commanding sergeant who tended to his wounded comrades during an assault in Vietnam in 1968 despite being critically wounded himself. His service from 1949 to 1974 included the Korean War.

Between treatments for bladder and colon cancer, Skinner, a widower living in Aiken, South Carolina, has researched and created 858 profiles for the Roll of Honor in the last five years. They are among nearly 100,000 profiles on the site, which serves 1.4 million living vets and is free to veterans and family members to build but charges a $19.95 annual membership fee to connect with old service friends.

Traffic to the site typically surges on Memorial Day, said organizers, who noted that on last year's holiday the site received some 40,731 page views, up from their usual daily 5,889.

Some younger users said the site shed light on the military service of now-dead loved ones.

David Baker, a 38-year-old Navy machinist mate from Dallas currently stationed in Japan said the profiles provided a window into the World War I experience of his great-grandfather and World War II duties of his grandfather.

"I have learned so much from digging around for information about what he did, since he passed away before I could ask," Baker wrote on the site.


In Destin, Florida, Army veteran Denny Eister, 69, initially struggled but has mastered the skills of uploading pictures and cutting and pasting details into the 993 profiles he's created in the past two years.

Eister, who ran combat missions as an infantry officer in Vietnam, said the work has eased the emotional pain that lingers after coming home to an angry, not grateful, United States, and helped him summon the "courage" to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., after decades of avoidance.

"It makes me feel good about that period of my life that I tried to shut out for such a long time," said Eister, who was awarded the Bronze Star for rescuing his wounded platoon sergeant during a heavy firefight.

He said that when he returned to the U.S. after serving from 1965-1968, "We had to get out of airplane and run into the men's room and change into civilian clothes and hope nobody knew what we were doing."

As crowds gather Monday to watch Memorial Day parades and lay wreaths, World War II Navy veteran Barbara "Bobbe" Stuvengen, 89, will pay her respects on the computer her sons helped her purchase.

"It's been a lifesaver for me, especially since my husband died after two years in a nursing home with Alzheimer's," said Stuvengen, of Orfordville, Wisconsin, who served in the Navy from 1945-1959.

Through the site, Stuvengen has met more than 10 friends, some of whom have visited her, hungry for tales of the Navy from a woman whose 17th birthday dinner on December 7, 1941, was interrupted by radio newscasts of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

"I sometimes feel like the matriarch of a very large family," Stuvengen said.


(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Scott Malone and Alden Bentley)

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This US Memorial Day Remember War Is Murder
BY GLEN BARRY · MAY 25, 2014, Ecological Internet: We must stop glorifying war murders and their perpetrators, and demobilize globally in order to address the far greater threat of abrupt climate change and ecosystem collapse. Murder has not, nor will it ever, make us free.

This Memorial Day, as America lionizes the bravery and sacrifice of its soldiers, try if you can to step aside from jingoistic nationalism for a moment and think freely. Recall that stripped of ritual and pomp, war is the killing of other human beings for political and economic gain. America has proven particularly adept, by some estimates being at war all but 20 years of its nearly 240 year history.

In war brainwashed young men (and now women) of one tribe hunt down and kill the indoctrinated from another tribe to serve the interests of rich old men. It doesn’t matter under the banner of which god, arbitrarily delineated nation, or the rhetoric used; war is murder. Bodies are cut and blown apart, homes destroyed, families ripped asunder, women raped, and the land, water, and air plundered as the wealthy declare a respite from the laws of humanity to further their own enrichment. This is war.

This is not to suggest that humanity never has to fight to stop the march of one mad man or another, or to stop some over-consuming nation from wantonly stealing resources. We may yet have to fight to overthrow the oil oligarchy’s hold on our economy and destruction of our biosphere.

The manner in which we glorify soldiers and war – covering up the brutal nature of war, and the profound suffering it causes – does a grave disservice to those killed, those aggrieved who will start the next war, and those who blindly followed orders. Young naïve men go to war believing falsely that a nation can absolve their acts of murder – and remain forever traumatized as a result.

In this regard there is little exceptional about America except the size of our egos and willingness to kill any and all that get in the way of our over-consumption and delusions of grandeur. We are like Rome, who despite her legions fell because of the rot from within, and we will meet the same or worse fate if we continue to celebrate war and murder.

Expenditures upon standing armies are obscene. America’s spends over $600 billion a year on war – more than most other major nations’ expenditures combined – a diversion of societal resources that directly murders scores more whose food, shelter, education, and jobs are taken from them to finance the murder of other similarly poor people. It is the poor that provide much of the cannon fodder to the killing machines, their awful task of murdering others ennobled with grand rhetoric. To the victor goes the right to write history, seeking to justify with self-righteous words acts of vicious bloody murder.

War murder is a business, a growth industry that benefits the military-industrial-congressional complex (how the term was originally conceived by that commie pacifist General Eisenhower), and has propped up Western economies for decades. Rather than using the limited resources of Earth to produce goods and services that meet human and all life’s needs, war-mongers wantonly consume fossil fuels, minerals, food, and human capital to systematically kill other human-beings.

The cost of one aircraft carrier, a floating city able to rain down death anywhere at will, could bring water systems to the entire world, saving 3,000 children a day from needless death. A few more foregone ships could end poverty as we know it for the 2 billion human beings that live on less than $1.50 a day.

Until the early 20th century, armies mostly demobilized between conflicts. Now capitalist economies are built upon the systematic stealing of resources, killing those who happen to live near and claim to own our resources and object. The rich liberal democracies (which are in fact neither) must wage perma-war to artificially maintain their high standards of consumption. Ever more grandly, wars are constantly waged under false pretexts and outright lies – look at the Iraq weapons of mass consternation, the Gulf of Tonkin fabrication, and President Obama’s reign of drone terror.

No amount of jingoism obviates the fact that veterans are murderers and they and their enablers are war criminals. America’s recent decade plus of war has been in violation of the 1996 U.S. War Crimes Act (penalties which can include death), the international Third Geneva Convention of 1949, and the 1987 UN Torture Convention. It is not OK to invade sovereign nations that pose you no threat, to kidnap and torture suspected enemies, to murder remotely with drones at will, or to spy upon and assassinate American citizens.

And it is not just W, Condi, Rumy, and Bama that are guilty of war crimes. The Uniform Code of Military Justice makes clear soldiers have an obligation and a duty to only obey lawful orders; and indeed, have an obligation to disobey unlawful orders. These include Presidential orders that do not comply with the code, the constitution and international law. Further, it was established by the U.S. at the WW II Nuremberg war trials that “following orders” is not justification for war crimes. Nearly every American that has served in the past decade has been involved in the carrying out illegal acts of murder under the constitution and international law.

The oil oligarchy are the latest rulers to indoctrinate American young men and women to go forth to strange and exotic new lands and kill the people that hold our resources. At one time after WWII America took the lead in disarmament and establishment of international law to avoid war. Now since we were hit by a small band of criminal terrorists, we feel justified in waging perma-war.

Over a million people, mostly innocents, have been murdered to avenge the few thousand tragically lost on 9/11. Has America gotten revenge yet and can the perma-war stop? It is time to regain our humanity and take some calculated risk to end war murders.

And let’s push back against the creepy Orwellian justification for America’s war binge. We are not hated for our freedom, and you can’t wage war on terrorism (which is a tactic). Mostly we are hated because we have occupied holy lands of other peoples, we arrogantly presume that all Earth’s resources are our own, and we speak grandly and pompously of liberty and opportunity as we deny it to others.

President Barack Obama’s drone perma-war is terrorism, traumatizing innocent populations, and murdering thousands. It is well past time for the U.S. to stop drone terrorism worldwide, to subject our war-making to the International Court of Justice like most other nations have, and to begin the process of international negotiations to demobilize our war machine in a manner where we and all nations can be reasonably assured of security. Future acts of barbarism will have to be responded to differently, through the criminal justice system, and without militarizing our entire way of life.

Earth is running out of resources to fuel exponential growth of industry and population. As ecosystems continue to collapse and inequities rise on a globalized Earth, humanity’s propensity for killing their foes is bound to reach a whole new level of sheer madness. As each nation seeks drones, nuclear weapons, and authoritarian means to spy upon our every thought, we can never again live peacefully and justly.

We are one human family on an increasingly fragile Earth. As abrupt climate change and ecosystem collapse continue to intensify – and the few hundred mega-rich won’t be able to exponentially grow rich any longer, the bourgeoisie realize their standard of living is going down, and the billions of poor demand their piece of the pie – perhaps it would be best if there weren’t any stray nuclear arms and the billions of pieces of conventional weaponry lying around.

Coming decades are going to be wrought by climate famine, water shortages, and diminishing access to resources to fuel over-consumption and an even greater failure to meet basic needs of many. It is time to pursue global military demobilization – with a residual international, demilitarized police force; and an emphasis upon fairness and justice – as a top priority, if together we are to survive much less thrive.

This memorial day dare to dream of peace. And work for demobilization and caring for our wounded warriors – who despite having followed illegal orders, in many cases because they were indoctrinated with our tax dollars to hate and murder – need our help to mend their minds and bodies. Help them be whole again, including shedding the indoctrination that justifies their murders, and ensuring this murderous war mayhem ends once and for all.

It is time to embrace pacifism in all but the most unusual and desperate instances of self-defense. And perhaps we should be fighting, if at all and as a last recourse, those in the oil oligarchy and elsewhere who destroy the Earth and the human future, instead of poor people trying to hold onto their autonomy.

As one who has served honorably myself and worn the Army uniform, I call for a truthful and loving caring for veterans, forgiving their mindless killing, and helping all those that have been victimized by war murders to use their experiences to banish state sponsored war once and for all. Then we can get on with saving our deteriorating ecosystem habitats together, and ensuring the basic needs of the entire human family are met. Together we must commit to never again celebrating war murder, someday soon taking a day to memorialize senseless acts of love, peace, sharing, and kindness.

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May 26, 2014 12:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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