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Page 17
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Spring Break: Operation Dire Distress

By Bob Riggle

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On Friday, March 21 Michael Goetsch, Dave Kettenhofen and myself headed off to DC Land for a little "spring break." Our mission was to participate in Operation Dire Distress. After checking into our hotel to rest up and get a grip on our jet lag we felt a need for a good meal and a good pint or two. Leave it to the "Milwaukee Boys" to sniff out three good brewpubs within four blocks of their hotel.

Operation Dire Distress was a two-day gathering of various veterans' groups, military family members and supporters. VVAW was a sponsor of this event along with Veterans For Peace, Veterans Against the Iraq War and others. Saturday's agenda consisted of a teach-in at Kay Chapel on the campus of American University. There were about twenty-six speakers on the program including our own Dave Cline, Bobby Muller (president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation), Daniel Ellsberg and retired rear admiral Gene R. La Rocque, to name a few. The chapel was packed with approximately 250 people interested in hearing the message being sent out. Because I had no opportunity to take notes I did not get the names of all I met, or listened to, or who were presented to the audience. Louisa Franklin-Ramirez, whose first arrest for protesting against war was in 1917, was introduced and received a standing ovation — simply awesome.

Prior to arriving at the teach-in the "Milwaukee Boys" had time to do a little sightseeing and picture-taking. Our objective was to visit the Wall, the Korean Memorial, the site of the World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Women's Memorial. While at the Wall we were approached by a Dutch TV crew and asked if we could be interviewed. Always out there networking, we agreed. Little did we know we would be involved with them for about 45 minutes. But they were a really nice group and had some very good questions about our individual military and anti-war careers.

Sunday's event was the peace march. We gathered near the Wall about noon where we eventually formed up to begin our walk. As we milled around waiting for others to arrive we unfolded our VVAW banner. It was THE hit of those gathered, so much so that a Vietnamese couple came up to us and asked if they could take pictures of each other in front of the banner. I'd like to think it was VVAW they were fans of, but in retrospect, I think it was the fact that we were the only Vietnam veterans' group present with a banner. This was the emotional high point of the trip for me.

As the march proceeded on to the Wall, a small group was designated to lay a wreath there, as was also done at the Korean Memorial and the site of the World War II Memorial. From there it was on to the Department of Veterans Affairs building. In a small park across the street, statements were read by veterans representing the Gulf and Vietnam Wars and by an atomic veteran. Those statements addressed the issues of biological, chemical and radiation exposure incurred by veterans from their respective eras. I delivered a statement on Agent Orange written by VVAW's John Zutz who was not able to attend due to health problems. These statements were then attached to a wreath and presented at the entrance to the VA.

On to the Ellipse where there were more speeches, including more words of wisdom from Daniel Ellsberg and VVAW's own Ben Chitty. The day pretty much ended with a body bag being passed around so those who wished could dispose of medals, ribbons, statements, or whatever, a la Dewey Canyon III. This body bag was to be presented to the White House, but after it was learned they would not accept it, a decision was made to turn the body bag into a traveling exhibit that would be taken around the country as an educational aid and allow those who could not come to DC Land the chance to add their own mementos to it.

All in all, it was a decent turnout. Roughly 400 to 500 participants were in the march, the weather gods were smiling on us all weekend, and that Vietnamese couple was there right up to the end.

Bob Riggle is an Army veteran, a member of the Milwaukee Chapter of VVAW and a local contact for the Milwaukee area.

Korean War Memorial, Washington, DC

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