When Jim Brown of Encinitas, Gilbert Field of Carmel Valley and members of their group stride down Harbor Drive in downtown San Diego’s annual Veterans Day Parade on Saturday, Nov. 10, they will march to a different drummer than the majority of participants.
Brown and Field are leaders of San Diego Veterans for Peace. The Hugh Thompson Memorial Chapter 91 is among 125 Veterans for Peace groups nationwide and six in other countries.
Among several aims, the mission of the San Diego outfit, which has more than 100 members, is to strive for the abolition of war as a national policy and escalate awareness of the costs of war.
“We served honorably,” Brown said of the group’s veteran members. “We have honorable discharges. But we don’t think war works.”
A Vietnam War veteran who served in the Marines Corps, Brown said he was stationed in the intensive combat zone around Da Nang. He said he received a Purple Heart for being wounded in action and a Combat Action Ribbon.
After his four years of service, Brown said, he chose to leave the military in 1970 rather than re-enlist, despite the promise of a promotion above his rank of first lieutenant.
“I came home,” Brown said. “Time went on, and I started thinking, `What did I do? Did this work?’ And I said, `You know, I don’t think it worked. I went over there and I shot up people and they shot me, but did we actually help the situation over there in Vietnam?
“We didn’t. We didn’t win a doggone thing. We lost an awful of troops and we killed millions.”
The same year Brown exited the service, Field graduated from college. Realizing he would be drafted into the Army and be sent to Vietnam, Field chose to enlist in the Coast Guard.
Field said he left the Coast Guard in 1974 as a lieutenant, and then served as a civilian contracting officer for the Navy from then until 2006.
The George W. Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq galvanized Field’s opposition to the country’s strategy of solving conflicts through military intervention and the idea of going to war in general. That led to his involvement in San Diego Veterans for Peace.
He found out about the organization when the chapter was putting memorial crosses for fallen service members on the beach in Encinitas.
Like Brown, Field is a past president of the Veterans for Peace chapter, and now serves as its communications director.
“The whole situation, going back from time immemorial, has not worked,” Field said. “Countries fight each other, and then five years later, they’re best buds. So, why don’t we just skip the fighting.”
The San Diego chapter sponsors and supports local events, demonstrations, rallies and vigils. It participates in annual mileposts such as the Martin Luther King Day Parade in January, the Earth Day Fair in April, Memorial Day in May, the Pride Parade in July, Hiroshima Day in August and the Peace on Earth Bazaar in December.
Several times a year, the group sets up its Hometown Arlington West Memorials. The displays feature simulated headstones with the names of fallen soldiers, Marines and sailors, along with the dates and locales of their deaths.
The organization has added more of these items to its memorial displays as the U.S. continues its combat presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other hot spots.
Locally, Veterans for Peace’s most controversial activity has been its opposition to the hugely popular Miramar Air Show.
Each year, the show staged in the fall celebrates the military’s history of flight and aircraft, highlighted by aerial displays performed by the Blue Angels, the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron. The event typically attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Veterans for Peace representatives contend the show glorifies war, promotes violence to children and adolescents, wastes taxpayers’ money, and endangers flight crews as well as communities in the show’s flight path.
“It’s an entertainment thing, plain and simple,” Brown said. “And it doesn’t help the training of anybody. ...
“We think if they want to have an air show like that, why don’t they call that an entertainment kind of show and put it on where it’s safe. Put it on Camp Pendleton, where there’s no (off-base) neighborhoods and not Miramar, which is surrounded by dense neighborhoods.”
Not all of the San Diego chapter’s activities are anti-war and protest related.
The group launched a program in December 2010 to distribute sleeping bags, socks, stuff sacks and water to homeless veterans, an effort that by necessity led to donations to non-veterans.
Whereas the Veterans for Peace leaders had an initial goal of raising $3,000, the program has generated more than $100,000. It has resulted in the distribution of about 3,500 sleeping bags to homeless people in downtown San Diego.
“The homeless situation is a cost of war,” Field said. “We could solve most of our problems if we didn’t have these wars.”
Taking an active stance against war and, in some cases against government policies, is not without its risks. Field said he witnessed the driver of a pickup purposely run over a curb to intimidate protesters.
“They throw stuff at us,” Field said. “It’s mostly verbal and fingers - the one finger salute.”
The group meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the University City Church of Christ, 2877 Governor Drive, in San Diego. San Diego Veterans for Peace’s website is sdvfp.org.