Vets protest Afghanistan War — and also memorial curfew

From left, outside court after their arrest for violating the Vietnam Veterans Memorial’s curfew, Ellen Barfield, an Army veteran who served during 1977-81; Tarak Kauff, an Army Airborne veteran; Ken Mayers, a Marine veteran (1958-66); and Mike Hastie, a Vietnam War Army medic veteran (1970-71). Photo by Jefferson Siegel

BY JEFFERSON SIEGEL  |  Oct. 7 marked the start of the 12th year of the conflict in Afghanistan, the longest war in U.S. history. Although the anniversary passed with little notice last Sunday, one determined group of military veterans was determined not to let the loss of more than 2,100 fellow soldiers pass unnoticed.

Last Sunday night more than 100 veterans and others gathered at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial near the Battery for a reading of the names of the fallen from the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Episcopal Bishop George Packard, a Vietnam veteran famously arrested at the Occupy Wall Street attempted takeover of Duarte Square last Dec. 17, spoke. Also speaking was Pulitzer Prize- winning correspondent Christopher Hedges.

The vets called for an immediate end to the Afghanistan War and to all U.S. wars of aggression. President Obama has said the U.S. plans to pull its troops out of Afghanistan by 2014. They also affirmed the right to assemble.

A small sign posted near the memorial’s entrance notes the closing time of 10 p.m. but the veterans believe it should be open to them around the clock.

“There are many combat vets that this is sacred ground to and to tell them that they cannot be there after a certain hour is like your memory is shutting down,” said Tarak Kauff, a director on the board of Veterans For Peace and a veteran of the Army Airborne.

Kauff was one of 25 vets arrested for staying after the memorial’s 10 p.m. closing time. Twenty-two were released after being issued desk appearance tickets with return dates in November. Three others were held overnight and were released by Monday after- noon with adjournments in contemplation of dismissals. In interviews, many of them said they still suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder from their combat days.

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