Friday, November 30, 2012

Witness: Reflections of an Awakening

ED Note: Danielle Catanese is a former Navy Corpsman and traveling nurse. We met her early on in our current stay in Key West. She is also a food critic of sorts, and so we have spent a lot of time together checking out Key West's unique culinary offerings. This has led to some great conversations wherein I learned of her personal military history.  I in turn shared mine with her, highlighting the experiences that led to my involvement and subsequent history with Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and it's interactions with Iraq Veterans Against The War (IVAW). Danielle has since signed on with IVAW, and is particularly interested in IVAW's Operation Recovery.  One afternoon during a visit with us, she sat and penned this piece, which reflect her inner thoughts on our conversations, and their impact on her consciousness of the contradictions entwined in it all. It is a great example of  the definition of the meaning of the word vetspeak, and the art of speaking truth to power; so, with her permission, I share it here with y'all. WH


I am a witness. I am a witness to pride, elation, sadness, and grief. I am a witness to greatness and defeat, of military prowess and stupidity, of compassion and apathy. I am a veteran of the United States Navy. As a Hospital Corpsman stationed stateside, overseas, shipboard, and forward deployed, I have witnessed almost every emotion one could think of. I have also witnessed many situations from intense to mundane, all of which are unique to me and my ability to deal with their reality.

As a witness, it is my responsibility to my brothers and sisters in uniform to offer an ear, a shoulder, an outlet, or assistance finding professional help for the gambit of emotions and situations they have experienced first hand or witnessed themselves. Another responsibility of being a witness is to share my own experiences, reactions, and resolutions with others so that they may become witnesses too. People may say that being a witness is not as important as being reactionary, but I beg to differ.

Bearing witness to an event, situation, or emotion makes them real to the masses; for they have not been there, seen what we have, lived the way we have, or coped like us. The events, situations, and emotions become undeniable when tens, hundreds, and thousands of people with similar experiences join together to bear witness.

Revolution stems from a connected, informed, well organized base of witnesses. Without witnesses, there cannot be change; for the masses will remain ignorant of our pride, elation, sadness, and grief. They will not be able to relate to our situations and stand behind us. We cannot win our fight for acknowledgement and acceptance without support from each other, as well as those who have not served. I am a witness, are you?

Danielle R. Catanese
U.S. Navy Veteran

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Scott Camil: A Winter Soldier Carries On

Internationally Known Activist Finds Peace With War Buddies

Ed Note:
I learned of the Alpha North Reunion, and of this pending article regarding it, in a phone conversation with Scott while wandering the aisles of a local Key West grocery store ealier this month.  The article was subsequently published on Web2Carz, on November 20th. As soon as I read it, I called Scott and asked if he would mind our publishing it and distributing it here at VetSpeak. It is a unique and poignant insight into the transition from combat veteran to anti-war veteran activist, and the contradictions that not only initiated it, but that still are in play even today. It personifies our Vetspeak mission statement, and definitely speaks truth to power. Thanks it is...WH

By:  Steve Karras
Web2Carz Staff Writer

"What we believe in and what we stand for is so different. But when we're together, we're fucking Marines first, Americans first, and the other bullshit doesn't  matter and that's how our country should be."

Scott Camil’s Marine Corps fitness report written before he left Vietnam states the following: “[Sergeant Camil] can be trusted to complete any task assigned to him and often takes the initiative to do the odd, unglamorous but necessary jobs that arise from time to time. Under fire he is extremely cool."  He was praised for his “complete knowledge” of his job as a forward observer—to call in artillery on enemy targets from the field—his organizational skills, his fierce motivation, and his keen ability to instruct enlisted men and officers alike.

 But no adjectives or elevated language could convey the gravity of what Sergeant Camil had experienced during his thirteen month tour, and the extended six months he volunteered to stay on and fight. And however laudatory the officer who evaluated Camil, he couldn’t possibly have known that the 21-year-old sergeant would apply the same skills which made him a good marine to a tireless life of activism. 

Camil’s entrance into the antiwar movement was gradual. When he came home from Vietnam in November 1967 he served two more years in the Marine Corps and had time to adjust from combat. 

“I would say that the time was a buffer that saved my life because the conflict resolution skills I learned in Vietnam was to just kill the guy,” Scott Camil said in a recent interview with us.  

We were all very aggressive when we came home and if somebody spat on me I would have messed them up. I don’t know any guy that came home and got spit on.”

It was while he was studying at the University of Florida in Gainesville that Camil heard Jane Fonda speak at an anti-war rally on the campus and his life took an unexpected turn.  

“I was throwing a Frisbee, not really paying attention. I just wanted to see Barbarella,” Camil told us
Getting ready for patrol, Hoi An 1966
“[Fonda] got my attention when she said, ‘This is supposed to be a democracy, and the people are supposed to be in charge. The people are not getting the truth, and without true information a democracy cannot function. It cannot live. It’s the duty of patriotic Vietnam veterans to come forward and tell the truth about Vietnam because the government is not.’ Well, I was patriotic, I was a Vietnam veteran, and I knew what we were really doing in Vietnam, and I felt people had a right to know the truth"

During the rally, Camil gave his contact information to an organizer in front of the stage taking names of veterans willing to speak truthfully about the war in Vietnam. Several days later he received a phone call inviting him to Detroit to participate in the highly publicized Winter Soldier Investigation—a three day media event sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans against the War (VVAW) intended to expose war crimes by American troops in Vietnam. 

The Scott Camil who showed up in Detroit in late January 1971 was a wide-eyed and seemingly benevolent young man with long hair and a beard. He looked like any other college-aged hippie who subsisted on a steady diet of ramen, casual sex and good weed—not a twice-wounded, decorated marine with enough confirmed kills to thrill any battalion  commander. But the moment he introduced himself on the 1st Marine Regiment Panel,  jaws dropped in the audience as he began his testimony. 

Dai Loc 1967
"My name is Scott Camil, I was a sergeant attached to Charlie 1-1. I was a forward observer in Vietnam. I went in right after high school and I’m a student now. My testimony involves burning villages with civilians in them, the cutting off of ears, cutting off of heads, torturing of prisoners, throwing prisoners from helicopters, calling in artillery on villages for games, corpsmen killing wounded prisoners, napalm dropped on villages, women being raped, women and children being massacred, CS gas used on people, animals slaughtered, Chieu Hoi passes rejected and the people holding them shot, bodies thrown off of helicopters, tear-gassing people for fun, and running civilian vehicles off the road."

He left Detroit with a renewed sense of self, totally politicized. Songwriter Graham Nash wrote and recorded the song "Oh Camil! (The Winter Soldier)” in tribute and Camil ultimately became a known presence in the anti-war movement, especially on his college campus where he organized demonstrations. 

By 1973 he’d made J. Edgar Hoover’s list of dissidents to be "neutralized” for his conspicuous activities with the VVAW; as a member of the “Gainesville 8” he stood trial for conspiracy to disrupt the Republican National Convention with violence and was later hospitalized after a federal narcotics agent nearly shot him to death.

In a sense, Camil has always been “under fire.” He has repeatedly endured the painful rejection of former comrades, been called a traitor by ex-active duty marines, for once testifying before Senator George McGovern’s committee and in recent years for his staunch opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I was in two units in Vietnam. First I was in the artillery unit, Alpha Battery, 1/11, or Alpha North, which was my mother unit, and then I was attached out to an infantry unit. A lot of the guys in that infantry unit who had sons in the military and were proud of them for going to Iraq stopped inviting me to their reunions because I accused them of ‘not having learned jack-shit from their experiences that they would want their children to go to war.’” 

Of the dozens of abbreviated names and acronyms in the Vietnam lexicon used to describe the enemy, battles, units, and locations there are two words that hold the most significance for Camil: Alpha North. 

Short for Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, it was a fire support base located just south of Da Nang when Camil arrived on March 24th 1966. 

1972 poster Winter Soldier Documentary
As the “new guy” he was assigned to guard duty for his first three weeks and on April 17th was sent with 15 others to four separate outposts on the camp’s perimeter (four men per outpost) to pull guard duty. Since Alpha North was in the rear and far enough away from the fighting, the rules of engagement for those on guard duty were that no weapons could be loaded and they would not be allowed to fire without permission from the sergeant of the guard. Grenades were also taped up so that if the pins accidentally came out no one could get hurt, but because the weather was so hot, the tape melted to the grenades rendering them useless during the attack. 

But I was the kind of person (and still am) for getting in trouble for thinking for myself. I thought, ‘I’m in Vietnam, I’m in the Marines at war and I’m getting combat pay,’ so I loaded my rifle.  A trip flare went off to my left front and when all of these hardcore Viet Cong sappers (suicide unit) with weapons got up to fire and I started shooting. Chaos erupted everywhere, rockets started blowing things up, people were shooting.”

The enemy completely destroyed two of the 105mm howitzers and caused damage to the ammo and fuel dumps. Out of 90 marines, 5 men had been killed and 28 were wounded. 40 dead Viet Cong sappers wearing black pajamas lay scattered around the compound.  “The next morning I knelt down and pulled the ponchos off each of the dead marines- one of them was my first friend in Vietnam, William Terry "Jake" Main from Jacksonville, whom I met when I came to the outfit.

I remember thinking, ‘This war stuff isn’t going to be as much fun as I thought it would be’ and that I’m in a place where it’s people’s legitimate job to kill me… and if I get killed, that is the end. There is no second chance. There is no King's X. There is no time out. This is really serious and I have to get my head out of my ass.’ So I made a decision that day that I was going to be ruthless, brutal, and that I was going to have no empathy. I wanted to live. I said, ‘kill them all and let God sort them out'. And so, I’m going to err on the side of safety. If you’re dead, you can’t hurt me or mine. If you’re in free fire zone and I couldn’t tell the difference between a good guy and a bad guy whether you’re male, female, child, you’re dead. (who knows if that same person who’s smiling at you during the day isn’t planting that booby trap at night) I was going to get them all.” 

After Alpha North’s camp was attacked the battery moved to another compound and Camil volunteered to be a forward observer with the infantry unit whose activities he explicitly spoke most about during the Winter Soldier hearings. 

What happened to Camil at Alpha North and afterward is now etched indelibly into the public record. Camil has told the same stories about what happened to him in Vietnam ad infinitum in documentaries, interviews, and in the countless articles about him online. On some levels Camil is no different from other combat veterans battling Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and who revisit painful events in the many self-sealed narratives which have remained frozen for decades. 

In the ranks of VVAW 1971
But Camil’s war also prefigured his very public world-view and greatly informed his life in activism which he has maintained at a breathtaking pace. In 1971 he started the Gainesville chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War and in 1987 established the Gainesville Chapter of Veterans for Peace. In the late ‘80s, and into the ‘90s, Camil represented Veterans for Peace on fact finding missions to Central America and the Middle East. 
Then in 1994 he returned to Vietnam for the first time since the war to work on the Vietnam Friendship Village Project—-a nonprofit organization that raises money in the United States to help support the Vietnam Friendship Village in Hanoi. 

Then in 1994 he returned to Vietnam for the first time since the war to work on the Vietnam Friendship Village Project—-a nonprofit organization that raises money in the United States to help support the Vietnam Friendship Village in Hanoi. 

While there he told officials that there was one place he had been during the war that he absolutely needed to go but they balked at his request. After all, American veterans were always asking to be taken to their old battlefields but nobody ever knew exactly where they were located. But when the ex-forward observer took out his old maps from Vietnam he stunned his hosts who then gave him permission (and a driver) to go where he needed.    

I went back to this village where our battalion killed 272 people—old men, women and children.” Camil said. “It’s where I got my first Purple Heart from a “bouncing betty.” There is a memorial in that village for the people we killed and I spent one day on my hands and knees and placed three burning incense sticks at each grave, one of which was a mass grave for 23 children. I made it a point to tell the people from that village that I was one of the guys who did this and there was absolutely no hostility against me. So now when I think about that place I have different pictures in my brain besides the people we killed and my buddies who bled with me. I have pictures of people who are happy there now, who are my friends, and who have forgiven me.

Then this past year a woman named Bonnie Gallegos, whose brother PFC Robert Dwain "Arnie" Arnold was killed at Alpha North, decided to organize a reunion of the unit's surviving veterans in Las Vegas.Camil went and uncharacteristically took politics off his agenda. It was a chance for him to write the post-script on a story that has been closed for 46 years. 

There were some who were afraid that I’d turn it into an anti-war event but the real reason I wanted to go because there were people I wondered about, who I cared about,” Camil said. “And for the last 46 years wondered ‘did that person have a good life?’ or ‘is that person alive?’ "

In addition to his wife Sherry (it’s his second marriage) accompanying Camil from Gainesville was a four person team from the Samuel Proctor, Oral History Program at University of Florida who were going to interview people from the unit and record the history of Alpha North. 

The reunion just put something so glorious and happy inside me.  We hadn’t seen each other in 46 years and it was as if no time had passed. The camaraderie, the love, the emotion, the warmth, the sincerity was just unbelievable. I have never been as close to human beings in civilian life as I was with these guys in combat. For the wives, it was just wonderful. The wives got to see that the things they deal with their husbands are not unique to them--being married to a combat veteran is a lot of work and it takes a unique person to be able to understand us and put up with our shit really.”  

The majority of the people that I spoke with at the reunion were republicans, a few tea-party people, and Christians—very opposite of where I am on everything. But it didn’t matter because we were brothers first. I had a lot of conversations, one-on-one about politics and there was never an argument, there was no yelling, just complete civility. And I miss that kind of civility in that real world. What are amazing are the varying backgrounds, where we are politically, what we believe in and what we stand for is so different. But when we’re together, we’re fucking Marines first, Americans first, and the other bullshit doesn’t matter and that’s how our country should be.”

All of the oral histories recorded at the event will be filed with the Library of Congress and there will be a section at the University of Florida called the Alpha North Collection. Another reunion has already been planned for 2013.  

At age 66 Scott Camil gets 100 percent disability from the government and Social Security allows him to do full-time peace and justice work.  He’s currently the president of the Gainesville Chapter of Veterans for Peace, now planning their annual peace concert on December 8th. Proceeds from the event help raise enough money to cover the organization’s expenses for one year.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Two Soldiers, Four Wars, One Name

by NMguiniling

It’s Guiniling. Pronounced “Gah-Kneeling,” it is my husband’s maternal last name, which traces back to the highlands of the Philippines.

It’s not that I find my own given name particularly un-likeable.  As a child of the modern-day ‘blended family’ (and one in which my mother kept her maiden name in marriage), I’ve contemplated the idea of name-changing, hyphenating, and all manner of Onomastics since I was pretty young. For instance, my maiden name, Burton, is of English origin and refers to one “residing near a fort or garrison,” whereas my maternal last name, “Wenger” refers to one’s German place of residence, “on a grassy hill”. But Guiniling is the name my husband and I have chosen for its ability to tell an important chapter of our family history.
It is now only heresay that Inting Guinling, my late grandfather-in-law, was born in August of the year 1900. That date comes from an approximation on his U.S. Army enlistment papers, which were filed some 18 years later. On the paper, Inting’s middle name is listed as “Igorot”, (pronounced Eee-Goo-Root), which refers to the Guiniling family’s tribe—somewhat similar to “Cherokee” or “Navajo”.
At the dawn of World War I, it was to the U.S. Army’s advantage to recruit these highland tribes who had eluded both Spanish and American colonial campaigns. In addition to having had little to no contact with Westerners, this meant the Igorot and other mountain folk knew little to nothing of the effects of the Philippine War of Independence, which took the lives of 600,000 of their countrymen at the hands of both Conquistadores and later, U.S. Marines
 Inting was recruited to the Philippine Scout (PS) special forces unit of the U.S. Army in 1919, and served until the end of the war. He was called back into service for World War II, where he fought in the Bataan Region with the 42nd and 45th Infantry regiments against Japanese soldiers. Jon, my uncle-in-law, explained to my husband and I in a recent e-mail:
When the [U.S. Army in the Philippines] surrendered to the Japanese in 1942, Inting refused to surrender. Instead, he escaped and went back to the mountains and joined the guerrillas fighting the Japanese. He always eluded capture, even after his… units surrendered (Writer’s note: this surrender led to what is known as the ‘Bataan Death March.’ More than half of the P.S. died in battle or as POW’s of the Japanese in WWII). He finally rejoined the U.S. Army in 1944 when Gen. Douglas MacArthur returned to liberate the Philippines from the imperial forces of Japan. When Japan surrendered in 1945, he escorted surrendering Japanese soldiers to Manila to be shipped back to Japan. He was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1946 after 27 years of honorable military service. He earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star with a combat V, Asiatic Pacific Campaign, World War II Victory Medal and many more. He died on Dec. 21, 1968"
Despite all this, and General MacArthur’s comments in a 1942 Time Magazine article that the Igorots were an important part of the war effort, the Philippine Scouts are still considered “Forgotten Soldiers,” overlooked and under-recognized for their sacrifice. Perhaps Inting’s long list of honours are a true testament to just how incredible his actions were.

There is no doubt in any of our minds that Inting Guiniling is a hero. It was because of him that his entire family was granted U.S. citizenship. He is the reason his daughter, my mother-in-law, was able to attend university tuition-free. He is the reason my husband was born in the United States. He is a hero simply for these gifts that gave his family the chance to have a better life. My husband and I certainly wouldn’t have met and fallen in love without him. (Thanks, Grandpa Inting!)
But war—as many people are touching on this year, as we enter the 11th round of the Global War on Terror—is about more than heroes and their valiant deeds

My husband’s uncle is the oldest of his mother’s siblings—old enough to remember the war stories, and more..
One morning in the family hut (still, at this time, in the highlands of Mountain Province), Uncle Jon as a child tried to wake his father. Grandpa Inting awoke in a panic, and proceeded to beat his son into the wall of the hut. He would apologize some time later, explaining to Uncle Jon that he didn’t recognize his son—or where he was.

And then there were the times, my husband told me, when his Lola (Grandma) had to flee into the forest with her children, in order to hide from her husband—who would slip into fits of rage, would grab his gun out of the blue and put himself on “guard duty” outside of their home, for indefinite periods of time.
These used to be the things that every military family had a story about, but no one was allowed to speak of. Paranoia, unpredictable rage and violence, and ‘hyper-vigilance’— a term described by post-trauma psychiatrist Kathleen Whip as, “When you’re in a constant state of readiness, even when you don’t have to be”—are all the symptoms we know today associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Certainly, the word didn’t exist in Inting’s day—some refuse to believe it exists in 2012.
It was in part the acknowledgement of PTSD’s existence that my husband refused a second deployment. After 15 months in Afghanistan, he was unwilling to return there or go to Iraq. From the Panjwai Massacre to the torture of Afghan detainees; from Abu Ghraib to White Phosphorus, it has become clear that this decision may have saved his sanity.

He didn’t qualify for C.O. Status (a Conscientious Objector in the U.S. Army must categorically oppose all forms of violence, including self defense). A request of transfer to a non-combat role was ripped up by his commanding officer. Isolated, depressed, exhausted, trapped, and clearly suffering from PTSD, my husband did what was best for his own self-preservation: he went to Canada. He separated himself from his trauma, and sought to understand it and come to terms with it. He did not, as his grandfather and countless others did before him, resign to it as a “necessary evil” of man, of war, of life.
Soldiers today have more information about PTSD than any generation before them. Should we still be thinking of war the same way? Should my husband, for instance, have committed himself regardless, like his grandfather did–despite his knowledge of PTSD and things like international law?
Soldiers who leave the army, as my husband has, face courts-martial and jail time for refusing to destroy themselves and other people in the process. A jail sentence of one day over a year will brand you a felon for the rest of your life. Felons, in exchange for their crimes, forsake the right to vote and bear arms in all but two U.S. states.
 Former U.S. soldier Robin Long served a 15 month sentence in2008-2009 for going AWOL to Canada, refusing to fight in the Iraq War 
Where two U.S. wars gave one Guiniling citizenship for his family, two other wars may be what takes it away. 
As the notoriously anti-war veteran and writer Kurt Vonnegut would have said, “So it goes”.
Canada, since Vietnam, has changed its tone on the subject of War Resisters and Draft Dodgers (there is no “draft’ per se, but Stop-Loss legislation in the U.S. is a de-facto draft of servicemen and women, and it has led many to re-deploy indefinately—not disconnected from the greatest suicide epidemic that the country has ever seen). Whereas Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals welcomed them in the 1970s, Harper’s Conservatives find the cacophony of PTSD claims and human rights abuses—all the natural bi-products of war—to be highly inconvenient in a time they are trying to re-brand of Canada as a Warrior Nation.
Come what may, “Guiniling” is more than a name for my my husband and me. It is the story of a legacy and a family, born of war and its plurality of meaning.
I remain optimistic. After all, ‘Nicole’ means “Victory of the People”.
Related Articles:
Ed Note: This piece was originally published on November 10th on Nicole's Blog. She has agreed to share it  here on VetSpeak in support of our mutual mission to put a human face on the Toronto Resisters (49ers), as we work torwards Amnesty for all Resisters and Deported Veterans.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Veterans Day 2012: Still at War

Ed Note:  Thanks to Mike Hearington of VFP for sharing this piece with us. WH

Thoughts on Veterans Day
By John Cory
November 11, 2012

Veterans Day—A national Hallmark Card for war inked with survivor's guilt.

We have numbered wars like SuperBowls (WWI and WWII), marked them by time (the Hundred Years' War and the Thirty Years' War), masked them with a gentle oxymoron (the Civil War) and fogged their battles in terms of weather (Rolling Thunder and Desert Storm). War is a lesson in geography like the Spanish-American War, the Mexican-American War and the Vietnam War or, as the Vietnamese call it, the American War. Modern war is waged on an "ism" like Communism or Terrorism.

We never run out of names, terms or reasons for war. And there is always an anniversary for war or a battle or its start, a day of  red poppies and marketing to ensure romantic remembrance of death and destruction.

That is war after all - a marriage of violence and glory "until death do us part."

War is a true never-ending story. And when the shooting stops, we file the body parts and memory fragments on a bookshelf for later reference when we write about war, searching for Kevlar words to protect the troops as we recon the thesaurus of emotions and memories for the building blocks that frame a new rationalization for more war.

And everyone wants a good war story to lead the six o'clock news or top the bestseller charts. It has to be heroic and noble, a tale of sacrifice for the greater good or better yet, a battle of reluctance turned into righteous annihilation of the enemy. It has to be a story about us versus the faceless and godless enemy that leads to triumph and victory, albeit a world-weary victory, thrust upon us. We didn't want to destroy the village but we had to destroy the village in order to save the village. Like that ominous voice of movie previews, we utter the words: In a world of kill or be killed, there can be no doubt.

Of course we don't tell real war stories. We write recruiting posters. We have perfected the perverted normalcy of war and made it a family affair

In the recent election cycle only 3 percent of voters listed war as a topic of concern when voting for a candidate. 

The thing they never tell you, the lie of all lies, is that you can go to war and then come home.

You can't.