OAKLAND, California—The upcoming holiday meant to honor U.S. veterans comes in vain for some.
On 11 November 2011, the United States will celebrate the sacrifice of nearly 25 million veterans involved in past and present U.S. wars and conflicts.
There have been early celebrations, like the 2 November 2011 Congressional Gold Medal Gala Dinner honoring the veterans of the 100th Infantry Battalion in Washington D.C.
The 100th Infantry Battalion was the mostly Nisei, or second-generation Japanese, battalion that experienced heavy combat during World War 2 (WWII). It combined with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, another Nisei team honored at the gala with the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest awards any civilian can receive.
“These were common men who rose to uncommon heights, who put their lives on the line, without fanfare, without seeking credit, to regain our national birthrights for us,” U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said at the gala, adding that initially Japanese Americans were not allowed to fight for the United States in the war against Japan, due to discrimination after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. “The magnificence of what they accomplished is the stuff of legend.”
Though the Nisei veterans, living and deceased, are among the veterans receiving national honor for their military service, there are veterans who feel they joined the service for nothing as they return home empty-handed.
A war at home
At an Occupy Oakland protest on 25 October 2011, Oakland police shot Mr. Scott Olsen with a projectile.
Mr. Olsen is a veteran Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq and is reportedly recovering from brain injury, the result of a fractured skull.
According to news reports, Mr. Olsen was standing still, not provoking anyone when a projectile hit him in the face and knocked him down. As fellow protesters gathered around to help him, police fired tear gas canisters at them, causing them to disperse.
“The fact that this war veteran fell wounded not on a battlefield in Iraq but in an American city, apparently as a result of police action, strikes many who have followed the Occupy movement as ironic,” Reuters reported.
The Occupy movement began in New York City and San Francisco on 17 September 2011, where people protested social and economic inequality. Influenced by the “Arab Spring,” which were protests that resulted in the end of decades-long dictatorships in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, have spread to cities across the United States as well as internationally.
Joining the students, educators, labor unions, and activists protesting at city halls, outside banks, and in parks, veterans have become involved, at times wearing their fatigues.
“This is our moment to stand up and to voice the grievances, to voice what we’ve all been thinking of for a long time,” Gulf War veteran Mr. Brian Smith told Democracy Now! at Occupy Louisville protests. “The system does not work for us. The system works against us.”
He continued, saying he is disgusted that the largest U.S. banks, like Bank of America and Citibank, have taken advantage of the Veteran Affairs (VA) home loan refinancing system, charging hidden fees for loans.
At Occupy San Francisco, Iraq War veteran and close friend of Mr. Olsen’s, Mr. Aaron Hinde told Democracy Now! that service members swear oaths to protect their countries, carrying that responsibility with them even outside of the military. This same responsibility is what brings veterans out to the Occupy protests.
U.S. Army veteran and executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War Mr. Jose Vasquez told Democracy Now! that veterans leaving the military are highly likely to face unemployment and homelessness, giving them more reason to join the protests.
“People are forced to reenlist because they’re facing a tough economic situation,” Mr. Vasquez said. “Many veterans are going into the police force because of the economic situation. That’s one of the few jobs that military personnel can get easily after leaving the military.”
He added that veterans represent the 99 percent, or a majority of the world’s people who are not wealthy.
“The one percent [wealthy] uses the police and the military to sort of maintain what they have,” he continued. “Military and the veterans are getting angry about how the people are being treated.”