Veterans lead group at Heidelberg post
HEIDELBERG, Germany — Anti-war activists took to the streets of Heidelberg over the weekend to protest against a possible war with Iraq. The demonstration coincided with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday holiday, the 12th anniversary of the Gulf War and worldwide protests.
Outside U.S. Army Europe headquarters, Vietnam veterans joined German peace demonstrators Thursday night for a daylong vigil across from Campbell Barracks. On Saturday, protesters marched from the city center to the small base, which is also home to the U.S. Army V Corps.
While the protests remained peaceful, the veterans involved made sure their message was loud and clear.
“George Bush, we know you. Your daddy was a killer, too,” shouted Darnell Summers, a 55-year-old veteran from Detroit.
“This war has nothing to do with ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction. It has more to do with the strategic interests of the United States. For us to have our way of life, others must suffer.”
His chant, amplified by a megaphone, sparked dozens of demonstrators to join in, including fellow veteran Dave Blalock, 53. As members of the Stop the War Brigade, the veterans were trying to reach out to soldiers who don’t want to fight.
“The majority of troops we’ve talked to are against a war with Iraq,” Blalock said. “They say it’s clear that this is about land and oil.”
Two soldiers in baseball caps engaged German demonstrators in political discussions, but most soldiers avoided the protest. A few Americans shopping at the nearby convenience store scurried past.
Passing by, Brian Rausch, a 59-year-old retired lieutenant colonel who flew Cobra attack helicopters in Vietnam, appeared surprised to learn that fellow Vietnam veterans were among the demonstrators.
“Everybody’s got a right to an opinion,” Rausch said. “I just wonder if they’ve read anything about Saddam.”
During the demonstration, the base was mostly a ghost town. Most soldiers took advantage of a scheduled training holiday Friday. On Saturday, only a few troops were on duty.
On Thursday evening, USAREUR spokesman Col. Carl Kropf chatted briefly with Blalock across a waist-high shrubbery.
Blalock told Kropf he wanted to challenge the V Corps commander, Lt. Gen. William Wallace, to a debate over the war.
Across the street, Lt. Col. Rich Karlsson rested his elbows on temporary fences his troops set up to blockade the front gate of Campbell Barracks.
As the local provost marshal, Karlsson said his military police officers were on hand to make sure the protest remained peaceful.
“But this is basically a show for the [German police],” Karlsson said. “We couldn’t do this without them.”
Protesters requested permission through the city government to stage the demonstration. Troops from the 529th Military Police Company at nearby Patton Barracks were on hand, Karlsson said, alongside a dozen German police officers.
German protesters raised signs to passing traffic and held candles. One woman sang songs of protest with her guitar. Another woman, Erika Adams, 64, said, “Bush wants the whole world, like Hitler.”
Still, the American protesters, throwing their fists in the air and yelling, stood out among the more sedate German activists.
Another American ex-patriot, who goes by G. James, supported the veterans’ efforts. He’s been in Germany for 33 years. In 1970, he arrived in Europe to assist soldiers who were against the Vietnam War, he said. He related also future war in Iraq with Nazi aggression in World War II.
“Now we have hindsight,” he said. “I think of 1939, if we could have demonstrated here before [German] soldiers invaded Poland.”