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Veterans to return medals to NATO commanders

By Jacob Flom |
May 18, 2012
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Screen-print by artist Kevin Caplicki

Chicago, IL - Dozens of U.S. military veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plan to return their medals to the commanders they served under on Sunday, May 20. Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) will lead thousands of anti-war protesters from Grant Park to the site of the NATO summit in downtown Chicago. Outside McCormick Place, the veterans and service members will return their medals to NATO commanders. Veterans of the U.S.-led NATO war and occupation in Afghanistan will march side by side with the group Afghans for Peace at the head of the march organized by the Coalition Against NATO/G8.

"By returning my medals I can begin the healing process,” said Iraq veteran Zach Laporte, a member of the Milwaukee IVAW chapter. "The NATO commanders may not acknowledge us as we return our medals," said Laporte, "but by making our presence felt in the media and on the ground people will know our story. They will know the real story that the NATO commanders do not want the public to know."

Through their action on May 20, IVAW hopes to bring attention to the human cost of the NATO occupation in Afghanistan, as well as the continuing effects of the Iraq war. But for the veterans returning their medals, this is also a personal process of healing the wound caused by NATO and U.S. occupations. Speaking to Democracy Now!, Chicago IVAW member Aaron Hughes said NATO is, “perpetuating a failed policy and unfortunately we have to live with that failed policy on a daily basis, and we don't want to be a part of that failed policy anymore."

Returning service medals as an act of protest was popularized at the 1971 action Operation Dewey Canyon III, organized by Vietnam Veterans Against the War. At that event, over 800 combat veterans threw their medals toward the U.S. Capitol building in protest of the Vietnam War.

Sunday's rally and march against the NATO summit will start at the Petrillo Bandshell on the corner of Jackson and Columbus in Chicago. Entertainment and speakers begin at 10:30 a.m., followed by the mass march to McCormick Place at 2:00 p.m.