Veterans commemorate war anniversary

Hannah Misner

St. Patrick’s Day weekend marked the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Villanovans for Peace, a student group, commemorated the anniversary with two events.

On March 20, an “Eyes Wide Open” exhibit displayed military boots at the Oreo showing the number of Pennsylvania servicemen who have died in Iraq.

The next day, “The Ground Truth,” a documentary on soldiers’ reactions to the war, was shown in the Connelly Center Cinema.

The viewing was followed by an informal question-and-answer session with veterans from the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

Both events attempted to expose in an non-partisan way the true feelings of soldiers and the reality of the human cost of war.

“Eyes Wide Open” is an exhibition that carries military boots from city to city, with nametags to identify each fallen solider from that state.

The exhibit is sponsored by the American Friends Service Community, which is based on the Quaker belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.

The AFSC won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for this objective. Though founded on Quaker principles, the organization reaches out to all faiths and races to carry out its mission.

The Oreo displayed 160 military boots to represent the 160 Pennsylvania soldiers killed in the war – the third-highest loss of any state – and 50 civilian shoes to represent the thousands of Iraqi civilians also killed.

Many boots contained newspaper clippings, jewelry and personal notes from friends and family members of the victims.

Although these boots were not personally worn by the victims on the nametags, they were authentic military boots meant to represent the victim.

“The Ground Truth” followed the stories of about a dozen servicemen in Iraq, focusing primarily on the tough adjustments the soldiers faced upon returning home.

They met harsh challenges in reestablishing relationships with their families, girlfriends and themselves.

They also had trouble controlling violent tendencies and overcoming intense feelings of guilt about the lives they took overseas.

Aside from these psychological challenges, each also voiced disappointment with sluggish paperwork following the tour of duty.

Many stated that the military denied responsibility for their post-traumatic stress disorder and instead branded them with “personality syndromes,” which implied that their problems were unrelated to military action.

The veterans felt that their dedication to the United States was grossly underappreciated by the government, and they received little compensation for their service, monetarily or mentally.

The film’s narrators pled to be heard by the U.S. government. As one soldier stated, “The U.S. claims to support their troops, but the best way to support them is to listen to them.”

When asked if the film portrayed the common opinion of today’s soldiers, Iraq veteran Patrick Resta answered with a decisive “yes.” He described the disheartening situation when he first entered Iraq in 2004.

He said this information baffled the soldiers, who believed that the presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction was a main reason for the occupation.

Resta also added that soldiers were told to have little interaction with the Iraqi people, which contradicted his understanding that they were in the country to help the people.

“Once all of this became evident, attitudes started to change pretty quickly,” Resta said.

“These feelings [displayed in the documentary] were the feelings of most of the people I served with.”

Bill Perry reinforced Resta’s claim, speaking from his experience in the Vietnam War, which many political analysts compare to the Iraq war.

After the veterans commented on the claims of “The Ground Truth,” they began to tell their own stories, which closely reflected those in the documentary.

Resta entered the military because he “had no other options” for an education. He also sympathized with the soldiers’ complaints of inadequate respect from the U.S. government.

“The fine print [of the military contract] says that the government can change anything at any time,” Resta said. “We are obliged to hold up our end of the deal, but they are not.”

Neither veteran considered himself a pacifist; rather they were against any war waged under what they consider to be false pretenses, such as the Vietnam or Iraq wars.

Perry said he had signed an oath to uphold the Constitution, and he takes that oath seriously. He wanted to voice his message in order to “let the American people know what is going on in their name.”