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Memorial Day Events Around San Diego County

May 27, 2013 12:58 p.m.


Dave Patterson, San Diego Veterans for Peace

Related Story: Memorial Day Events Around San Diego County


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ST. JOHN: Memorial Day is here to celebrate the start of summer but more importantly a time to pause and honor the fallen. This is KPBS Midday Edition. Many in San Diego have friends or family the military which brings the focus of Memorial Day closer to home. But even for those with no personal ties this is day to stop and reflect on the people who chose to risk their lives for what they hold dear. We will talk to a member of veterans for peace about the stories that come out of the Arlington West Memorial. Then an acclaimed production about the Japanese-American internment after World War II years working his way toward Broadway we will hear from George Takei who stars in the musical has a passion to bring the story to a wider audience. I'm Allison St. John. That's all coming up on KPBS Midday Edition. First the news. A memorial of headstones at the USS Midway is a good place to remember those who lost their lives in war. The story of Japanese-American internment camps is making its way toward Broadway and the war against hate crimes in this country is far from over.

This is KPBS Midday Edition. Today is Memorial Day, Monday, May 27. I'm Alison St. John in for Maureen Cavanaugh. Here are the top stories we're working on today. Mayor Bob's Filner's plan to get cars out of Balboa Park's Plaza de Panama did not work out the way he wanted. Filner says his plan was put on hold after protests from the old Globe theater. Crews are battling a brush fire near state Route 78 and San Felipe road. The fire, which broke out Sunday, has burned about 858 acres and is about 20% contained. And California lawmakers are heading into the final week to move legislation from one house to the next with a big to-do list. Among the bills expected to be tackled by the assembly and the Senate are wanted and control environmental protection and health care.

Memorial Day is an important day for many in San Diego who has family members in the Armed Forces. It's a time to pause and reflect on the courage and sacrifice of those who have died fighting. One place to go and pay your respects is the Arlington West Memorial out on by veterans for peace near the USS Midway on San Diego Bay. It's a moving memorial that allows many people to delve deeper into the feelings of grief for those who were lost and gratitude for their courage. And in the studio today we have Dave Patterson of Veterans for Peace, the San Diego chapter. Thank you very much for joining us, Dave.

PATTERSON: Thank you for having me.

ST. JOHN: Tell us first for how has the Arlington West Memorial has grown since you first began it.

PATTERSON: We started with there were about 300 casualties in the Iraq war which of course is about 10 years ago. We worked our way up to about 2200 crosses and it was quite an elaborate display. We used to do it on the beaches and other places. We recently transitioned away from crosses and we've gone to tombstones so we have tombstones presently 280 which represent the people in Southern California that have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

ST. JOHN: So that's 280 from Southern California that is the numbers from our local area. What sort of stories to hear from people who come to the Memorial? Why do people stop by? Because the one you have now is by the USS Midway right on the Embarcadero.

PATTERSON: Yes a lot of people come down to the Embarcadero or come to visit the midway and they come by and ask us questions and see what's going on. When we were in Oceanside we used to get a lot of Marines from the base and they would come down.

ST. JOHN: So we actually have Gary Lynn, who's a retired Navy captain who was down there this morning, Gary Lynn. Gary are you there?

LYNN: Yes ma'am.

ST. JOHN: Thanks for joining us there are many people down there is a collection of headstones on the Embarcadero are there many people stopping by?

LYNN: Yes we've had quite a few people there as they are walking through the Embarcadero they stop and look at the signs, they look at the headstones, read the names, ask questions we have black headstones out that represents those who have committed suicide as a result of the conflict and that always seems to bring some very strong emotions up from the people that stop by to realize that we have soldiers who may survive the enemy, but they cannot survive the trauma that they incur and they take their own lives. And we also have a model of the drone, the predator drone down here, which gets a lot of attention.

ST. JOHN: Dave, let me ask you what is the ratio like of the black to white headstones?

PATTERSON: I can't give you an exact count but out of the 25 rows we have three per row, so I don't know. I can't give you the number but it is in fact a ratio, yes it is. It's glaringly so when you look at it.

ST. JOHN: That's a really good way of visualizing it. So, Gary, your father died I understand, and this is a day when you remember him, is that right? Tell us a bit about him?

LYNN: My father was a first-class gunners mate at Pearl Harbor on December 7 at the USS Oklahoma when it sank and when he realized the ship was sinking he went down below to get my mother's engagement ring in his locker and had to wiggle his way out of a portal. He swam over to the USS Maryland which of course think also that is settled to the bottom rather than turning over so he was able to survive that as well. He went on to be involved in the Normandy invasion on an LST, and he subsequent to the end of World War II he was in Korea along the USS Thompson and was was on shore when a North Korean shore battery opened up.

He wound up at Balboa Hospital for two years. The only reason he survived his Lieut. Pittman LSE operations officer on the Thompson drug him out to the wing of the bridge and stuck his fist in the most massive wound he had in the upper thigh and was able to stop the bleeding until they could render medical attention. My father went on to be rehabilitated, went back on active duty and retired in 1962. He subsequently died of pancreatic cancer. As a result of having been at White Sands testing for the nuclear weapons there, the atomics weapons program. He was exposed to excessive radiation. And as a result of that, contracted pancreatic cancer.

ST. JOHN: He survived through so much, but yeah, succumbed to that in the end

LYNN: Eventually it took his soul.

ST. JOHN: Did he used to tell the stories about this or was he fairly secretive?

LYNN: No he was very reluctant to talk about anything of his war experiences. I am one of five children of his and we all encouraged him to write down his memoirs, but he would never do it. I think it was too painful for him. It would be what you would call today PTSD. They did not diagnose it at that point, but he always left with a lot of anger, frustration, things that would not normally have bothered most people he would get extremely anxious about and become very angry.

ST. JOHN: So you know from personal experience what it's like to live with somebody who's really been through it and you of course yourself are a Navy captain. You went into the military.

LYNN: Yes.

ST. JOHN: Was it because of your father that you went into the military

LYNN: I think so yes. My brother did go to the Naval Academy ;he didn't stay in though, after he left Vietnam. He was in country at one of the landing zones and he decided to get out of the Navy after he completed his obligation, actually he did the tour at Travis Air Force Base in specializing in transportation and then decided to get out. I elected to stay in, spent 28 years total service

ST. JOHN: 28 years of service, well I want to thank you for that. Do you think, Gary, that the general public is aware enough of what goes on in military families? You know, right here in San Diego?

LYNN: No, I don't think, that most anybody I ever talk to in the civilian community, they don't have any real appreciation or understanding of what the experiences are as people in the military. I mean, not just the military members but the family and what they endure without the members deployed particularly in a combat zone. It takes an extreme toll and then very adjustment with the military member comes back and tries to rejoin the family. It is extremely difficult. Because you're coming out of an extremely violent environment and trying to reintegrate into a nonviolent environment hopefully.

ST. JOHN: And right now in San Diego we have hundreds and hundreds of veterans coming back from newer conflicts facing the same challenges. I think it's hard to compare because the technology is so different today than it was say in World War II or even the Korean War or even a Vietnam War because things are not as, unless you are on the ground, boots on the ground like the Marines or the Army actually in country a lot of the people in the military that I know are removed from the hands-on combat situation. So it also has a detachment of the psychological effect is still there and that's hard to grapple with it sometimes.

ST. JOHN: Yes well, Gary, I am going to let you go and thank you so much for raising some of those very interesting thoughts because you know we can't really afford to be detached from conflict, can we?

LYNN: No and I think the more the civilian population understands the traumas of war and the impact it has as a consequence, subsequently and quite frankly that's why I'm a member of veterans for peace is that conflict is never going to resolve any of our differences. It just delays the inevitable. One conflict leads to another.

ST. JOHN: Well Gary, thank you so much for joining us and we'll let you go back to the memorial down there at the USS Midway.

LYNN: Thank you so much

ST. JOHN: That was Gary Lynn, retired Navy captain and we have in studio Dave Patterson who is also with San Diego veterans for peace and I mean, Dave, is this memorial an antiwar protest, what is really the motivation behind putting these headstones out there for people to come and reflect?

PATTERSON: It's several things. One thing it is a memorial to the people that have given, sacrificed, made the ultimate sacrifice now with over 6700 for Iraq and Afghanistan and as veterans we try to do that as respectfully as possible. And it's also an indicator to the public of what the cost of war is which is our goal at veterans for peace. So, for example when people come and talk about the extent of the casualties and they get a glimpse at it and we try to also bring up the amount of civilian casualties that have happened which are in the tens of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan. You know that's also a factor that needs to be considered when we look down the road and decide whether or not we are going to continue to get involved in these conflicts.

ST. JOHN: You write on the website that veterans for peace option occupies the no man's land between the peace activists and the military and I wonder, do you find that the Memorial somehow brings these two groups together in a way?

PATTERSON: Yes indeed we had a lot of people at the beginning of the Iraq war, a lot of peace activists that would otherwise not likely associated with veterans at all. Power with us. Then we had people that were active-duty military that would come down to our Arlington West and helpless but the crosses and the flags and the markers and knowledge that and I think it was appreciated on all sides that we had good common ground and common ground was we have to find a way to get around getting these conflicts.

ST. JOHN: So now we heard from Gary that there's also a drone down there, which I don't believe you have had before at the Memorial. What is the purpose of having a drone in the Memorial?

PATTERSON: Well we purchased a 1 to 1 scale repurposed drone and it has a small bombs on it and it sits on a pedestal down there and we have a TV monitor and a camera mounted on it when people come over to look at it they see themselves on the monitor and there are crosshairs on my monitor so they get a feel for what it's like living in northern Pakistan these days, Somalia, Yemen, where we are using these weapons to kill people, where we are legally not at war.

ST. JOHN: You've also been demonstrating I think weekly outside a drone manufacturer here in San Diego. What is the argument that you make because drones could in fact be saving American lives.

PATTERSON: Sure and in fact I've heard stories where they have actually sent to save the lives of our military people in action. But, in fact, the ratio of, the kill ratio of these things is really abysmal. So in northern Pakistan we've killed over 3000 people and less than 2% of them are known high-level terrorists. The rest of them are civilians or children or women. And it's making enemies., As these highbrow reports written by Stanford New York Law, Columbia Law saying that we are creating more enemies than we are killing. That we are terrorizing people with these weapons and is counterproductive. And we're just hoping that people start realizing that it's a problem internationally where we are creating more enemies than we are killing and domestically there's a problem with the technology as well.

ST. JOHN: Do you get negative feedback from people who come down to your demonstration, your memorial site here especially now that you have the ground. It's a military town you may get people coming by who actually don't like the message that you are putting up.

PATTERSON: Occasionally we do. This morning I spoke with a gentleman who works at Boeing and makes drones and we found common ground on the domestic side where he in fact told me that he too was worried about with the security apparatus in this country had intentions of doing with spying on Americans and following us around, and some we have common ground. We have a place to work from and to the debate on whether or not the president should be able to decide who gets due process and who doesn't is still going on.

ST. JOHN: Now, the Pew Center for Research, the people and the press has done a research report to show that more people now are changing their mind about the war in Iraq and saying that in fact the number of people who believe that the United States achieved its goals in Iraq and Afghanistan has dropped from about 56% in 2011 to about 40% now. Do you find that this is, this is obviously anecdotal but changes in the way the people who come to talk to you and maybe talk about the war, changing the way people are talking about?

PATTERSON: There's been a huge change. There was when we started doing this in 2003 after we invaded Iraq there was outright hostility in some cases. We were looked on as people that were just demeaning the military. But in fact over the time the people realize that we are trying to demonstrate to them that these kinds of conflicts are not good for this country. They are not good for the world or anybody else. So, nowadays they are coming by and saying yet we have agree with you, we have to stop doing this.

ST. JOHN: One of the things that the veterans for peace are doing in San Diego is distributing sleeping bags to homeless veterans and that's a program that's really taken off, hasn't it?

PATTERSON: Yes it has in the last three years we are actually right on the cusp of handing out our 1700th sleeping bag, that it which is we got enough donations to go through 1700 and it's really wonderful to go to be able to give a sleeping bag to somebody who is sleeping on a freezing sidewalk. And we are very thankful to the people that have contributed to this program.

ST. JOHN: It's obviously not all veterans. I know that veterans make a large proportion of the homeless population but these sleeping bags, are you giving them to just anybody?

PATTERSON: In the beginning we thought that we would do this for veterans but when you go down there and see these people he people standing out there you can't differentiate between the two. You see a mother there without a jacket on the streets, you cannot turn away from them so we give the bags to whoever we see that needs them.

ST. JOHN: And how do you raise the money for the bags and how do you distribute them?

PATTERSON: We get contributions from people through the website and we have a separate fund by the way that deals with the administrative side. So, several of us have contributed to it. So any kind of administrative costs are borne by us and separate individuals, so everybody's contribution goes directly. But for about $33 we can get a very nice looking back that we get from Coleman. And a rucksack for it, and also a poncho to keep the rain off.

ST. JOHN: What do you think of Mayor Filner's decision to make the veteran shelter permanent in his latest budget?

PATTERSON: That guy is terrific. I think Bob Filner is really good. It's really hard, down on the Embarcadero today I took a stroll, and there was this, it looks like a 400 foot yacht if you can call it that, or ship out there, a private yacht parked, and there was this poor woman sitting there with nothing. And it was just so stark, and so terrible, and I'm glad to be part of the sleeping bag program.

ST. JOHN: Of course the veteran shelter can only house a few hundred and there are thousands on the streets.

PATTERSON: There are over 8000 last count I think of homeless people on our streets.

ST. JOHN: One of the other things I noticed that you did is you questioned the city Council analysis of how much military budget cuts would harm San Diego. You know, the sequestration, cuts to the military budget we rely so much on federal spending here. What prompted you to say that this was exaggerated?

PATTERSON: Well in fact there's plenty of scientific reports and economic reports showing that if you invest a thousand dollars in military you get a certain amount of jobs, very small amount but if you invest $1000 on infrastructure and working in the schools and all that you create long-term jobs and many more and so it's very stark difference between the two. And it would do us a lot of good if we stopped spending so much money on weapons and weapons technology and moved toward infrastructure and helping our own people here in America.

ST. JOHN: And Dave, remind me when you became a member of veterans for peace was that immediately after you came back or did it take a while to feel like this is where you stand.

PATTERSON: I came back from Vietnam in the mid-70s, the early 70s and I became a member of veterans for peace in 2004. So it was quite a long time for me to come around.

ST. JOHN: It was an evolution of your thinking.

PATTERSON: Yes indeed

ST. JOHN: Right we want to thank you very much for the work you do and the memorial that you have up. Tell us how long it will be up today Arlington West Memorial down at the USS Midway.

PATTERSON: We will be down there till about four start closing up at four but if people can't make it and they want to come look at our website and see what we are up to we will be glad to have that as well.

ST. JOHN: Great, Dave Patterson San Diego Veterans for Peace thank you so much for coming.

PATTERSON: Thank you