Northwest Indiana natives Vincent Emanuele and Derek Giffin grapple with their pasts.Both served in the war in Iraq and say they are scarred by what they witnessed. They say they are resentful because they feel the U.S. government lied to them about the battle's purpose.
On Thursday, Emanuele of Burns Harbor and Giffin of Schererville will be in Washington, D.C., to send a message to the country's leaders. They will join hundreds of other protesters from Iraqi Veterans Against the War and other organizations. The protest coincides with the five-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.
The "Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan" is a four-day event, from Thursday to Sunday featuring testimonies from veterans of both occupations.
Military recruiting officials would not respond to Emanuele and Giffin's views on the record because they were ordered not to give comment.
But Marlene Bland, a public affairs official for the U.S. Army Recruiting Command at the Fort Knox, Ky., headquarters, said anti-war protests are protected.
"Part of a soldier's responsibility is to uphold the First Amendment right to free speech," Bland said. "We certainly respect the opinions of others."
Emanuele, 23, and Giffin, 27, hope their activism will compel more Americans to question their government.
The veterans said weapons of mass destruction, a major hook to go to war, were not found. And, they said, bringing democracy to countries is one of the Bush administration's other causes for the war.
The veterans said the public needs to put politics aside and consider both sides of the issue.
Coverage in the mainstream media provides a scant glimpse of the day-to-day warfare, they said.
"There are things we don't see on CNN ... the nightly news," said Giffin, who served from March 2004 to March 2005.
Giffin's view of the war has "fractured" relationships with his family, he said. "It tears me apart," the Andrean High School graduate said.
His grandfather wrote him a letter essentially ostracizing him from the family. At a family gathering, his aunt, a 20-year Air Force veteran, slapped him, he said.
Giffin said the war experience and his religious values clashed.
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"After 12 years of religious indoctrination, I was taught 'Thou shall not kill.' In the war, they say, 'God's on our side,'" he said.
The emotional toll haunts him.
"It's hard to describe what war does to the psyche," Giffin said.
Emanuele, a Chesterton High School graduate, served in the Marine Corps from September 2004 to April 2005.
He said he has had flashes of disturbing memories while shopping for groceries. He has trouble sleeping.
Now, he doesn't take anything for granted.
"It's hard for me to hear people complain." he said. "It's all trivial to me."
He can't let go of images of Iraqi civilians shot and killed or the memories of running over corpses.
Emanuele remembers a moment of reflection during the warfare.
His squad leader had read a passage from the Bible. Some time after that reading, Emanuele's squad defeated insurgents firing from their bunker. The squad went over to the bunker. Emanuele saw a Koran was opened up to a passage.
With that, he began to "understand the other side."
"This is not 'Saving Private Ryan,' this mythical image (of heroism)," Emanuele said. "I don't feel like a hero."
To view the Winter Soldier event, go to www.ivaw.org
Contact Jane Huh at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2008 The Chicago Post-Tribune