Last year Veterans of Peace successfully defended their right to march in Auburn's annual Veterans Parade. -- This year, Steve and Kristi Nebel of United for Peace of Pierce County (they are also members of Veterans for Peace) were back again at one of the nation's largest Veterans Day celebrations. -- After the event, Kristi reflected on the meaning of an event that, she says, has "the same transformative effect on me each time as if never before." ...
WATCHING IN SILENT UNDERSTANDING
By Kristi Nebel
** Reflections on Veterans Day **
United for Peace of Pierce County
November 11, 2013
Steve took twenty minutes to get dressed for the Auburn Veterans Day Parade. The green jungle fatigues were all buttons, he said; no zippers. Then there were the high-top black boots, plus matching black beret, gloves, scarf, and sunglasses. In his so-called color guard uniform he looked like a Veteran for Peace ready to do a low-crawl in sniper-infested jungles near Da Nang.
The color guard march in formation together holding giant American flags with a peace symbol where the stars should be. Our Veterans for Peace presence at the parade is an anomaly, to say the least. We were forbidden last year by the city of Auburn from marching, until the ACLU went to bat for us in court and won the case allowing us entry. Those five color guardsmen are a formidable bunch. Apparently they scared the city fathers with their peace symbols. Steve thinks they’re nothing but nationalistic sarcasm, but I beg to differ.
Twenty-eight of us gather for the march. This year four came from the Spokane Veterans for Peace chapter in solidarity after we won last year’s court fight. As we wait in line on a side street for our turn to enter the parade, Michelle, the former sergeant now officiating from the Seattle VFP chapter, tries to organize us. She barks orders to my partner and me to maintain a uniform distance from the big banner in front of us. We carry a small banner with the Veterans for Peace logo of a dove and our Tacoma chapter number identification. She explains to the other members from chapters in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Chehalis, and Port Townsend how to hold their banners upright in a respectful manner, and to keep even distances from one another.
This year she is intent on maintaining a neat appearance for our group. My partner with his long athletic legs ignores her and bounds ahead too close to the banner in front of us, rebelling against my pleas to obey. It appears to me these guys are pretty squirrelly for former military. My friend Dave explained to me later that I’m right. They were all fairly unsuccessful, he thinks, in military conformity, gravitating more towards peace. But we look pretty good anyway. Those color guardsmen are truly awesome in the realest sense of the word. Something about them takes my breath away. I know Steve looks downright sexy to me, I’m embarrassed to say. Generally speaking uniforms don’t turn me on but that gargantuan flag is a heart-stopper.
I’ve marched in this huge parade five times now. The first time, six years ago, I decided to join VFP because I felt strongly they needed support in a very brave initial move. I didn’t know if Steve would be interested as he has extreme feelings of animosity toward the nationalistic jingoism and symbolism that is ubiquitous on this occasion. It’s the biggest Veteran’s Day Parade west of the Mississippi, drawing participation from far and wide. The restaurants have a heyday with long lines waiting for lunch afterwards. It jams up the town with buses from schools all over the state full of marching bands. Obscenely tiny little boys come dressed in military uniforms and march gaily alongside older generations. Recruiters now say “this isn’t your father’s Army.” Does every generation have to have a war, I ask?
But Steve got on board that first year and has every year since. So anxious was he to get there in time that he snarled at me for setting the GPS wrong. He feels it’s the most important thing Veterans for Peace does all year.
Indeed, as I march I know it has the same transformative effect on me each time as if never before. My eyes lock with those of other women and I imagine we’re a fraternity of wives of combat soldiers when I see countless tears well up. We know in a sense our own scars as veterans of marriages that managed to last when others failed in the aftermath of wars that shredded their husbands’ characters.
But probably the finest and most pivotal moments for me are those split seconds when I imagine the observers hit by the first impression of the color guard. I think of it as a strong smack to the solar plexus, causing a 180 degree barely-conscious spin. These women and men have been watching cherubic cub scouts perched on tanks and armored vehicles, and gangly, pimply-faced boys in ROTC uniforms, facing futures in wars much more wild and horrific than the computer war games they play. They’ve been waving and cheering them on until we assault their senses with these towering patriotic peace flags held by combat soldiers. One old man looked up, snatched off his cap, held it to his chest and wept. Another man gushed, “Welcome back! Welcome back! Welcome back!” I imagine he knew full well these veterans had been back for decades but never will be completely back to the young men they were who first enlisted in the military. As easily as the next breath of life can come the hope for peace from one who has experienced war.
The hands come together in applause for us throughout the route and I thank as many as I can. Again and again I meet the eyes of women and my head slowly turns as I watch them watching me in our silent understanding. And once again I can’t help it. My eyes tear up, too, as I walk past them.