The cost we pay for Bush' lies

T.A. Barnhart

Today, I hugged a man whose son died in Iraq.  If I have done nothing else with my life this week, at least for a few moments I know I did something good.

At noon today, 550 or so people set off from the Benton County Courthouse to march in witness to their opposition to the illegal war in Iraq.  Marching is fairly easy to do.  Unlike last year, where a winter-long drought ended about the same time the 2-year commemoration began, we had bright, cool weather.  I carried a small framed quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:  "There is no way to peace.  Peace is the way."  Many wore "Veterans for Peace" armbands — Leah and Bart Bolder of the local VFP organized and sponsored today's march and rally — and the usual assortment of banners and signs were carried along.  Unlike past events, we had virtually no opposition.  The Bible-quoting flag-wavers who usually stand across the street from the Courthouse were completely absent.  (Leah tells me they have not been around at the daily peace vigil for some time.  Perhaps that's as good an indication as any of how little support the war now has.  Even those who believe God ordained Bush can no longer say he's doing the right thing in Iraq.)

We marched through downtown Corvallis for about an hour, a leisurely pace owing to the many stops at corners for lights and cars.  At the end, we assembled back under the Courthouse — we seemed smaller in a crowd than in a long, snaking line — and heard from a number of speakers.  Steve and Michelle DeFord, from Salem, were the second to address us.  They are members of Gold Star Families, but that's an organization no one wants to join.  In their case, their son, David Johnson, who had joined the Oregon National Guard soon after September 11th, was killed by shrapnel when an IED exploded under his unarmored (do not miss that last word) Humvee.  David had joined to protect his home — Oregon — from possible attack; he was a cook, both in vocation and as his service to his unit.  But Halliburton does the cooking in Iraq, so when he was sent over, it was as a machine gunner — with a total supply of 240 rounds of ammo.  He never fired them; he was killed because our government was content to send troops into harm's way without basic protection.  He was killed because Rumsfeld wants to fight this war on the cheap.

And he was killed because George W Bush broke his oath to his country — an oath he swore with his hand on a Bible.  More than 2,300 Americans have died in this war — because of lies.  Tens of thousands of service members are wounded, maimed and psychologically scarred forever — because of lies.  75,000 Iraqis have died, and many more are left in pieces, alive but without much future — because of Bush's lies.  And as angry as Steve DeFord is about these lies and the role his government played in killing his child, he feels guilty!  He feels guilty because maybe he hasn't done enough to stop the war and bring home the other children.  He feels guilty that he did not protest the war's inception, that he trusted his government to be acting in good faith.  He feels guilty, of course, because his child is dead.

My older son almost died a few years ago, so I have an inkling of the horror and pain this man feels.  I think about what might have happened, and I can only guess at how much worse my pain would be today.  But I am fortunate, and my son is alive, he is well, and he has a bright future.  David Johnson has no future, and Steve has pain of which I only know the edges.  I was simply standing off to the side of the small stage where Michelle and Steve spoke; I was just standing and listening, but it was the place to which Steve walked when he was done.  I saw the ache in his face, the anguish that has not lessened no matter how many times he has told this story.  I went to shake his hand, but he pulled me to himself in a hug.  The man needed a hug, and so I gave him all my compassion.  I didn't say a word, I just  hugged him and hoped something good was spoken.  Steve will never be fully healed, of course, but if we can save the life of some other father's child, I think he can find a measure of peace that clearly now eludes him.  His son is dead because of lies, and all he asks of us is to do all we can to stop the lies, to get rid of the liars, and to stand up for the truth.  No one's child should die like that, but his did.  He just wants it to stop.  He wants no one else to pay the price he and his wife have paid for Bush's lies.

  • BOHICA (unverified)

    Thank you. Steve and Michelle are friends of mine. Steve will be the lead speaker Sunday at the Portland rally representing Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families For Peace and Veterans for Peace (Steve is a Viet Nam vet). All of these organizations will be at the front of the march, all veterans and/or family members are invited to join us.

    Wage Peace, War Is Obsolete BOHICA

  • (Show?)

    the following is from the Corvallis Gazette-Times Sunday edition:

    The peace rally's keynote speakers were Steve and Michelle DeFord of Gold Star Families For Peace. Their son, Sgt. David Johnson, 37, of the Oregon National Guard, was killed on Sept. 25, 2004, north of Baghdad during a resupply convey. His unarmored Humvee was hit by an improvised-explosive device and Johnson, a machine gunner, was killed when shrapnel hit him in the back of the head.

    "Since then, we've been chasing a dream while living a nightmare," Steve DeFord said, a dream that the war will end, and that no more parents will learn that their children have been killed in Iraq.

    DeFord urged the marchers to do more than just attend rallies, and take real political action to vote out politicians who support the war.

    "I feel indefensible guilt every day," DeFord said. "I feel like maybe I'm not doing enough to stop this war."

    Michelle DeFord spoke of the absolute horror of learning her son had been killed in Iraq.

    "There is no worse news," she said. "A large part of our hearts died with David."

    Like her husband, Michelle believes the only solution to the situation in Iraq is for individuals to take a public and political stand against politicians and policies that support keeping American troops in Iraq.

    "If we don't get politically active," she said, "I believe we are doomed."

  • Leah Bolger (unverified)

    Thanks for writing this article. I also, was profoundly moved by the words of the DeFords. What tragic irony that Steve DeFord, who has paid such a dear price feels guilt about not doing enough to prevent the war. On the other hand, George Bush, who started the war and who has sacrificed nothing, is seemingly oblivious to the suffering he has caused and blithely goes on sending more people to kill and be killed. He has the blood of thousands on his hands--yet he feels no guilt. And he has the audacity to say that the world is a better place now. Not for Michelle and Steve DeFord--and not for me.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    Saturday in Ashland I stood with Rep Peter Buckley and The Women in Black and later I and the other Democrat 2nd CD Congressional candidates marched with the folks from the Armory to the Square. It's something we could do, not enough for those who've given so much, but something. Chuck

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