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Page 8
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VVAW Homecoming in Milwaukee

By Dave Collins

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John "Party Animal" Lindquist

It was the evening of August 16, 2003. The day before had been momentous: the last government bond issued to pay for the Vietnam war finally had matured. Milwaukee VVAW was hosting a "mortgage-burning party" at the Tasting Room, home to quite a few VVAW events over the years. So how does a guy from the Hill Country of Texas end up in a West Side pub celebrating finally having paid off a stupid, evil mistake?

It had been almost 30 years since I was in the company of a roomful of VVAW brothers and sisters. I ended up in that pub surrounded by good fellowship — and really great blues — in much the same way a lot of vets are coming back to their peace and social justice roots. The devil made me do it. Or devils — the chickenhawks and their handlers and feeders from the neocon right. The process for me started with the stolen election, but it did not flower until the early days of the Afghanistan invasion. By January, for the first time in 30 years, I found myself in the middle of an Austin main drag with thousands of other peace activists.

The night of the 16th was warm, by Milwaukee standards anyway. So was the welcome I experienced. I had undoubtedly met some of the folks in the room years ago, but none of us could be certain. While my VVAW Oklahoma-based activism and contact had largely ended by '74, many of the guys in the room had remained, if not active, at least in contact. Several, I learned, had continued to devote much of their time and energy to the organization and issues that had united us before.

It became obvious, as the evening went on, that there were others in the room whose story was a bit like mine. The welcome home they received was also warm and genuine. One of those guys was not just coming back after many years but from quite a distance. Jim Willingham, traveling from Florida, had been able to arrange a vacation in his wife's home town the same weekend as the party. As we were all greeting Jim, he pulled his old, faded, original VVAW button from his pocket. He told us that he had carried that with him through all the years. It was part of his mobile shrine: mementos that had helped him through some tough times. What a great story!

The talk of old times and new was trumped when the band started. This Texan was delighted to learn how well the blues had continued on up river from Chicago. Steve Cohen and Jim Liban are indeed outstanding bluesmen, whether covering classics or offering original tunes. Seems these guys' history is interwoven with VVAW as well. I was told how they would join the chapter for sleepover gatherings with campfire music late into the night.

I had to leave the party before the next act could get started, and regret that I do. The multi-talented Lisa Boucher, Matt Stewart and Dean Karres were just about to take the stage for a taste of Irish and tunes of other folk as I left the pub.

There is great tragedy in what brings many of us back together at this time. Many I have talked with voice a regret that I can sure identify with: "Damn, we gotta teach the same lessons again!" War sucks. Foreign policy is for adults. Supporting troops in war is not the same as supporting policy. War sucks.

Well, the very necessary silver lining to this quite dark cloud is the warmth and support I felt in that little pub in Milwaukee. Sincere and deep thanks to the guys that held the base for us to come home to. Let's all hope we can make short work of this clear and present danger to our freedom and to the safety of people around the globe. That will really be a reason for a party!

Dave Collins is a Vietnam vet and a member of VVAW from Texas.

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