Medal of Honor
LITEKY, CHARLES (ANGELO J.)
Rank and organization: Chaplain (Capt.), U.S. Army, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 199th Infantry Brigade
Place and date: Near Phuoc-Lac, Bien Hoa Province, Republic of Vietnam, 6 December 1967
Entered service at: Fort Hamilton, New York
Born: 14 February 1931, Washington, D.C
Chaplain Liteky distinguished himself by exceptional heroism while serving with Company A, 4th Battalion, 12th Infantry, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He was participating in a search and destroy operation when Company A came under intense fire from a battalion size enemy force. Momentarily stunned from the immediate encounter that ensued, the men hugged the ground for cover. Observing 2 wounded men, Chaplain Liteky moved to within 15 meters of an enemy machine gun position to reach them, placing himself between the enemy and the wounded men. When there was a brief respite in the fighting, he managed to drag them to the relative safety of the landing zone. Inspired by his courageous actions, the company rallied and began placing a heavy volume of fire upon the enemy's positions. In a magnificent display of courage and leadership, Chaplain Liteky began moving upright through the enemy fire, administering last rites to the dying and evacuating the wounded. Noticing another trapped and seriously wounded man, Chaplain Liteky crawled to his aid. Realizing that the wounded man was too heavy to carry, he rolled on his back, placed the man on his chest and through sheer determination and fortitude crawled back to the landing zone using his elbows and heels to push himself along. Pausing for breath momentarily, he returned to the action and came upon a man entangled in the dense, thorny underbrush. Once more intense enemy fire was directed at him, but Chaplain Liteky stood his ground and calmly broke the vines and carried the man to the landing zone for evacuation. On several occasions when the landing zone was under small arms and rocket fire, Chaplain Liteky stood up in the face of hostile fire and personally directed the medivac helicopters into and out of the area. With the wounded safely evacuated, Chaplain Liteky returned to the perimeter, constantly encouraging and inspiring the men. Upon the unit's relief on the morning of 7 December 1967, it was discovered that despite painful wounds in the neck and foot, Chaplain Liteky had personally carried over 20 men to the landing zone for evacuation during the savage fighting. Through his indomitable inspiration and heroic actions, Chaplain Liteky saved the lives of a number of his comrades and enabled the company to repulse the enemy. Chaplain Liteky's actions reflect great credit upon himself and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.
Charles Liteky, 85, Dies
New York Times, By Sam Roberts, January. 23, 2017
Charles Liteky, a former Army chaplain who received the Medal of Honor for bravery in Vietnam, only to return the medal two decades later as a protest of American foreign policy in Central America, died on Friday in San Francisco. He was 85.
His death was confirmed by a friend, Richard Olive, who said Mr. Liteky had suffered a stroke several weeks ago.
Mr. Liteky, who was a Roman Catholic priest when he was given the award, is believed to be the only one of nearly 3,500 recipients of the medal since the Civil War to have returned it in a demonstration of political dissent, Victoria Kueck, the operations director of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, said on Monday.
He acted out of opposition to the Reagan administration’s support for Central American dictators accused of brutally suppressing leftist guerrillas.
In 1986, Mr. Liteky (pronounced LIT-key) left the medal in an envelope addressed to President Ronald Reagan at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. He also renounced the lifetime tax-free monthly pension — then about $600, now about $1,300 — that went with it.
Mr. Liteky, who later served two federal prison terms for civil disobedience as a war protester, said he was motivated in his political dissent by the commitment that had inspired his bravery on the battlefield in Vietnam.
“The reason I do what I do now is basically the same,” he told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2000 as he faced a second prison sentence. “It’s to save lives.”
On Dec. 6, 1967, Mr. Liteky, the son of a career Navy petty officer, repeatedly neglected his own shrapnel wounds and, without a weapon, helmet or flak jacket, exposed himself to mortars, land mines and machine guns to rescue 23 wounded colleagues who had been ambushed by a Vietcong battalion. He evacuated the injured soldiers and administered last rites to the dying.
Before that firefight, Mr. Liteky had never been in combat.
He was one of three chaplains who earned the Medal of Honor in Vietnam. The other two were awarded posthumously.
Mr. Liteky once recalled that when he went to Vietnam, “I was 100 percent behind going over there and putting those Communists in their place.”
“I had no problems with that,” he added. “I thought I was going there doing God’s work.”
After he volunteered for another six-month tour, Mr. Liteky returned home from the war as an Army captain. Troubled by the celibacy requirement, he left the priesthood in 1975.
In the late 1970s, he was introduced by Judy Balch, a former nun, to refugees from El Salvador, “teenagers, whose fathers had been killed and tortured,” he recalled. He evolved into a vigorous opponent of American support for right-wing factions there and in Nicaragua and Guatemala.
In 1983, he married Ms. Balch in San Francisco. She died last year. No immediate family members survive.
In 1986, Mr. Liteky mounted a debilitating 47-day hunger strike near the Capitol against American involvement in Nicaragua. He later served two terms for trespassing at the Army’s School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Fort Benning, Ga., which trains soldiers from Latin America.
He was sentenced to six months in federal prison in 1990 for squirting blood on portraits at the school, and to the maximum one year in 2000 for a similar protest.
In 2002 and 2003, he visited Baghdad to protest the impending American invasion.
“I am in deep sympathy with all of those young men that are over there now doing what they think is their patriotic duty,” Mr. Liteky told NPR in 2004. “I think it is more of a patriotic duty of citizens of this country to stand up and say that this is wrong, that this is immoral.”
He had recently completed a memoir, “Renunciation,” which friends of his plan to publish this year.
Charles James Liteky was born in Washington on Feb. 14, 1931, to Charles Liteky and the former Gertrude Diggs. (His father had enlisted in the Navy when he was 15, lying about his age.)
He was raised mostly in Jacksonville, Fla., where he was a high school quarterback.
After attending the University of Florida for two years, he entered a seminary and was ordained a priest in 1960 as Angelo J. Liteky (the name under which he also received the medal) and joined the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, a clerical organization based in Silver Spring, Md.
He volunteered as an Army chaplain in 1966 and served with the 199th Infantry Brigade.
According to his official medal citation, during the firefight, in Bien Hoa Province, “through his indomitable inspiration and heroic actions, Chaplain Liteky saved the lives of a number of his comrades and enabled the company to repulse the enemy.”
He was the fifth military chaplain since the Civil War to receive the award.
After he left the medal at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it was retrieved by the National Park Service and placed in the collection of the National Museum of American History.
His very public protest in 1986 got mixed reviews from fellow medal recipients. While some criticized his action as unpatriotic, others described it as courageous.
“When I look at Liteky, I have respect for the courage of his views,” Paul Bucha, a medal recipient and a past president of the Medal of Honor Society, said in 2000.
“It’s difficult to be an iconoclast,” Mr. Bucha continued. “It’s much easier to go along. Men like Liteky are people who should force us to pause and think; they should not be ostracized and criticized. They are entitled to their views, and perhaps if we listened we’d be better off.”
Captain Charles Angelo J. Liteky, Chaplain, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. Republic of Vietnam, 1969.
Thanks to Paul Phillips firstname.lastname@example.org for the photo.
GO HERE to see 4 additional 199th Light Infantry Brigade photos provided by Paul Phillips
On 29 July1986, Charles Angelo Liteky renounced his Medal of Honor in protest over U.S. policies in Central America. Liteky's is the only known case in which a Medal of Honor has been renounced.
The following rememberence of Charles Angelo Liteky was received from Tom Kennedy on 21 October 1997. You can contact Tom Kennedy at: email@example.com
"Angelo Liteky was our chaplain in the 199th. I was not in the firefight that he was awarded the CMH for, but I knew guys who were. They all swear that bullets and shrapnel were curving around Father Liteky as he pulled all of those wounded guys back. By all accounts, God was watching out for his own that day. Father Liteky came out on all of our major operations & would actually hump the boonies with us. He would walk along in the individual squads and spend some time with each of us. If there was contact, you could count that he would find his way there quickly. If we were running an operation where we knew there was going to be contact, he would be with the first company in the LZ. He did not hang out in the CP. He was out with the grunts, up to his waist in water & mud in Pineapple Junction & Run Sat Special Zone, or sweating with the rest of us in War Zone 'D'. Frequently, he would overnight in the field with us grunts and stay in the company perimeter. (This must have been a considerable sacrifice since he had one of the two private hooches back at BMB/Long Binh. The other was Gen. Davison's. They were rumored to be air conditioned). He walked with me several times when I was on point. At least two of these times were right in the middle of Indian Country/Free-fire zones when contact was imminent. Father Liteky could also pick out a booby trap, too, or at least spot a trip wire (and that was half the trick, wasn't it?). He was a good guy. He wasn't preachy. When he was around, he made everyone feel comfortable and at ease. If you wanted to talk to him about spiritual issues (or anything else), he was there for all of us. He heard my Confession once when I was on point. There was nothing special happening at that moment; no contact or booby traps or whatever. It just seemed to me that 'this' particular moment was the right moment for me to go to confession and Father Liteky was there. He was a real comfort. The last time I saw him was February of '69 (I think) and he was getting ready to rotate back to the world. I commented that he was "...so short he didn't have time for a long sermon!" He laughed. I've had no contact with him since returning home, but in 1986, he was working with the homeless in Washington, DC. He had left the priesthood (and I believe he has married). He now goes by his given name of Charles Liteky. He had also left his CMH in a brown paper bag at The Wall in protest of the treatment of the homeless. I stopped by to say hello several times but he was always out on the street. We never did connect.This is a man who has made a very positive difference in a lot of lives. I am blest to have know him".
A Matter of Honor
He gave back his Medal of Honor to risk his freedom in protesting his country's policies
By Michael Taylor, ,March 13, 2000
FT BENNING -- Standing outside the gates of Fort Benning, Ga., protesting a U.S. Army school that trains Latin American military officers, Charles Liteky is a paradox, a man equally respected by many in the Army he used to be part of and by the demonstrators who surround him.
Elite Army paratroopers and Navy commandos come out of the Fort Benning gates >from time to time to shake Liteky's hand and talk to him, to ask him why he has spent years protesting the School of the Americas. Sometimes they simply want to talk to him about the war in Vietnam -- in truth, about his war in Vietnam.
Liteky, who is now 69, can lay claim to a situation that, as far as anyone can tell, applies to only one other person: As an Army chaplain, Liteky was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest decoration for heroism in combat, and less than 20 years later, he gave it back and renounced all its privileges, including the lifetime, tax-free pension of $600 a month.
Today, this former Catholic priest who spends half his time in San Francisco with his wife, Judy, is scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Georgia for trespassing at Fort Benning, a charge that he knows he will be convicted of and for which he thinks he will be sent to federal prison for as much as a year.
If he does go to prison, he might well be the only inmate with the nation's highest military decoration.
In American culture, the Medal of Honor is sacrosanct. Only 3,410 men and women have received it and there are only 150 living recipients. In the armed services, generals, admirals and colonels are known to snap to attention when an enlisted man wearing the medal comes into the room.
When Lyndon Johnson draped the medal around Liteky's neck in November 1968, he said, "Son, I'd rather have one of these babies than be president."
Liteky's road from Army hero to lifelong protester is not as complicated as it might seem. Whatever drove him to drag 23 men to safety during a fierce firefight in Bien Hoa province, he says, is probably what makes him now crusade against the Army training school, whose graduates, critics say, are responsible for the massacre of peasants and human rights workers in Central America.
"The reason I do what I do now is basically the same," he said in an interview recently. "It's to save lives. In the case of the School of the Americas, it's to stop training the military from the Third World, who take the training back and employ it in the oppression of their people."
In Vietnam, he said, "the situation was more immediate. People were getting blown up, shot and killed all around me. I didn't get hit, and there was nothing for me to do but help them. Some were dead. One young man died in my arms, breathing his last breath and just gasping for air. I held him for a bit, then I gave him last rites. Then I moved on because there were other people crying for help."
The Army's official citation says that on Dec. 6, 1967, when Liteky's company came under intense fire from an enemy battalion, he crawled through machine-gun fire and dragged his wounded comrades to the safety of a Medivac helicopter landing zone. At one point, Liteky tried to lift a seriously wounded soldier. "Realizing that the wounded man was too heavy to carry,'' the citation read, ``(Liteky) rolled on his back, placed the man on his chest and through sheer determination and fortitude crawled back to the landing zone using his elbows and heels to push himself along, pausing for breath momentarily."
Liteky grew up the son of a career Navy noncommissioned officer and says, "I was always very comfortable around service people, and it was easy for me to go into the service."
In 1966, six years after being ordained as a priest, Liteky answered an Army call for chaplains and was soon on his way to Vietnam.
"I was 100 percent behind going over there and putting those Communists in their place," he says now. "I had no problems with that. I thought I was going there doing God's work." He left the Army in 1971.
In 1975, "mainly because of celibacy," he left the priesthood and in 1983, married former nun Judy Balch in San Francisco. She introduced him to refugees from El Salvador, "teenagers, whose fathers had been killed and tortured. I didn't believe it, but I kept going to more and more of these meetings and it became clear these people weren't blowing in the wind."
By 1986, Liteky was devoting as much time as possible to demonstrating against U.S. policy in Central America and the Reagan administration's support of the Contra rebels in Nicaragua. In July of that year, he removed his Medal of Honor -- awarded to him under the name of Angelo J. Liteky -- and placed it and a letter to President Ronald Reagan at the Vietnam Veterans' wall in Washington. The medal was retrieved by the National Park Service and is now on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington.
Since then, Liteky has protested against the School of the Americas and has been banned from Fort Benning because of the many times he has invaded the post at the head of a column of protesters.
So how does Charlie Liteky's life sit with other Medal of Honor winners?
"When I look at Liteky, I have respect for the courage of his views," says Paul Bucha, past president of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and himself a recipient of the medal for his heroism as an Army captain in Vietnam. Bucha is now chairman of the board of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.
"It's difficult to be an iconoclast," Bucha says. "It's much easier to go along. Men like Liteky are people who should force us to pause and think, they should not be ostracized and criticized. They are entitled to their views, and perhaps if we listened we'd be better off."
As for Liteky, it appears he may be having some effect. In November, the Army said it would change its School of the Americas curriculum, making more room for courses on democracy and international law. And the other day, Major General John Le Moyne, the post commander at Fort Benning, called up Liteky and personally invited him to an annual symposium on human rights.
Does Liteky think Le Moyne would have called him if he didn't have the medal?
"No, I don't think he would have called," Liteky says. "And yes, I guess I did use the medal consciously. I didn't for a long time, but I see now that it provides me with a certain respectability even though I've renounced it."
Any regrets about giving it back in the first place?
"Not at all."
Army Hero Turned Activist Headed to Prison for Trespassing
Vet says protest against military school has been an "act of conscience"
By Michael Taylor, ,June 9, 2000
A federal judge sentenced Charles Liteky, a former Army chaplain and war hero turned lifelong demonstrator, to the maximum sentence of one year in prison yesterday, a term Liteky said he welcomed as a way of drawing attention to his cause.
Standing at the lectern in a Columbus, Ga., courtroom, 69-year- old Liteky, who lives part-time in San Francisco, read a 10-minute statement to U.S. District Judge Hugh Lawson. The judge leaned forward and listened intently, clearly interested in hearing why one of 147 living recipients of the Medal of Honor would willingly spend a year of his life in prison.
Liteky got his one-year sentence and a fine of $10,000 for two counts of illegally trespassing at Fort Benning, the sprawling Army infantry post that is home to the controversial School of the Americas, a training facility for Latin American military officers.
Liteky and other critics charge that many of the school's graduates have been responsible for massacres of peasants and human rights workers in Central and South America.
"I consider it an honor to be going to prison as a result of an act of conscience in response to a moral imperative that impelled and obligated me to speak for voices silenced by graduates of the School of the Americas, a military institution that has brought shame to our country and the U.S. Army,'' Liteky told Lawson.
Under terms of the sentence, Liteky, who is not in custody, will be notified by mail within six weeks about which federal prison he should report to. He said yesterday that he suspects he will be sent to Lompoc in Southern California.
Liteky's years of protesting and his occasional appearances before federal judges -- he did six months in prison 10 years ago for the same offense - might well be overlooked had he not received the nation's highest award for bravery in combat. He then became one of only two of the 3,410 recipients of the Medal of Honor to give it back, again as an act of protest.
Liteky was awarded the medal (under the name of Angelo J. Liteky) for saving the lives of 23 soldiers during a fierce firefight in Vietnam in December 1967. At the time, he was a Catholic priest and was serving in the Army as a chaplain. He has since resigned from his religious order.
During the one-hour court session in Columbus, Lawson told Liteky that he did not understand "the connection between what is going on at the School of the Americas and this court.''
Liteky said after sentencing that he intends to write Lawson from prison "because I want him to understand that connection.''
"We're doing acts of civil disobedience in the tradition of our democracy,'' he said. ``This has been going on for a long time. And in going to prison, I'm drawing attention to the issue. I'm happy with his ruling.''
Liteky's wife, Judy, a former nun, joined him in court yesterday. "My main reason for being here,'' she said later, "was to be with Charlie. The sentence is longer than I thought it would be, so I'm going to have to take some time to get used to a whole year.''
Correspondent Jason Miczek in Georgia contributed to this report.
Charles Liteky was released from the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution.
By Stephanie Salter,
Saturday, July 22, 2000
Next Valentine's Day, when Charlie Liteky turns 70, it won't be with his wife of 17 years in their home in San Francisco.
Instead, the former Roman Catholic priest, Vietnam veteran and U.S. Medal of Honor winner will have to choose celebratory company from among the 200 inmates he'll be living with in the minimum-security camp at Lompoc Federal Prison.
Liteky's sentence is one year, starting July 31. His crime: Two misdemeanor counts of trespassing during a protest march on the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning, Ga.
Liteky (pronounced "LIT-key") was bearing a fake coffin and headed for the School of the Americas inside Fort Benning when he was arrested last November and again in December.
A controversial training center for what the federal government now calls "counterrevolutionary" education, the SOA was founded in Panama in 1946 and moved to Columbus, Ga., in 1984. It was created by the United States to fight communism in Latin America. Along the way, though, it became the alma mater of hundreds of dictators, thugs, assassins, torturers and military "strongmen" like former Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega.
The late Roberto D'Aubuisson was another grad; he is generally credited with planning the 1980 assassination of El Salvador's archbishop, Oscar Romero.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest, and people like the Litekys, the SOA has become ground zero for a massive protest movement against U.S. social, political and economic policies in Latin America.
In November, when Charlie picked up the first of his two trespassing arrests, more than 12,000 women, men and children were in line behind him. Only 10 of them are going to prison.
Among the 10 are two retired ministers (Lutheran and Methodist), a Quaker, a Korean War vet and Sister Megan Rice, a 70-year-old Baltimore nun who served for 34 years as a missionary in Nigeria and Ghana.
"Sister Megan got six months the last time, and six months this time - the maximum," said Liteky. "She's still in jail in Columbus, waiting transfer to a facility near her home. She said the hardest part of being in prison has nothing to do with her - it's witnessing the conditions of the other women inmates."
Charlie Liteky also got the maximum sentence: two six-month terms to be served consecutively, not concurrently.
To those of us outside the world of nonviolent civil disobedience, people like Megan Rice, Roy Bourgeois and Charlie Liteky can seem a little nuts. Crisscrossing the country, getting themselves arrested or fasting to within a few days of death, they threaten their health, comfort, economic stability and, sometimes - as the Litekys have learned - their closest personal relationships.
"On the one hand, I'm out here doing something I think is important, something I believe is bigger than me and my life," said Charlie. "On the other hand, there's this thing called love. And this person I love, who loves me, is suffering because of me. My pain is her pain, hers is mine."
It is no wonder that many of the most committed social justice activists are or were priests, nuns and ministers - people who once answered an ethereal call to service with vows of poverty, obedience and (for some) celibacy.
They deeply believe that sacrifice and personal suffering can bear rich fruit for the oppressed and marginalized. Like Mahatma Gandhi, there are many causes for which they might die, but none for which they'll kill.
Back in 1966, when Charlie Liteky, the priest, volunteered to be an Army chaplain in Vietnam, the notion of no-exceptions nonviolence was missing from his personal radar screen. The son of a career Navy noncommissioned officer, Liteky was comfortable with the military; he trusted its ways.
"I cannot believe the attitudes I had in '66, the things I believed," he said. "I'd been taught about the evils of communism and the just-war theory. I had no problems with us being in Vietnam. I thought I was doing God's work."
To hear the survivors of a Dec. 6, 1967, firefight in Bien Hoa province tell it, Father Angelo (Liteky's ordination name) DID seem to be working for a higher power. Crawling repeatedly through machine gun fire, he dragged 23 wounded soldiers from his battalion to safety in a medical helicopter landing area.
Eleven months later, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Liteky with this country's top award for heroism in combat, the Medal of Honor.
In July 1986, in protest of U.S. aid to the contras in Nicaragua, Liteky gave the medal back - with a letter to President Ronald Reagan that he laid at the base of the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C.
"That was when Ronald Reagan was comparing the contras to the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers," said Liteky. "By then I'd begun to wake up about what my country was doing to Latin America. I'd studied the history and talked to refugees here in San Francisco.
"Then I had to go down and see for myself, to El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. I was ashamed of my country. And I was ashamed I'd participated in the same thing in Vietnam."
Ironically (or inevitably), Liteky first met some of the casualties of U.S. Latin American policies through the woman who would become his wife.
An Immaculate Heart of Mary nun for 13 years, Judy Balch had left her order for life in the laity in 1978 and moved from her native Los Angeles to San Francisco.
A year of teaching math to poor Latina students in the L.A. barrio had opened her eyes as a nun to the economic and social inequities suffered by many minorities. Social justice seminars, taught by fired-up Jesuits at the University of San Francisco, expanded her horizons and threw her into the company of anti-nuclear weapons activists and people in the "sanctuary movement" for Salvadoran refugees.
In 1980, learning that she was "ready to date," mutual friends picked out a candidate: a tall, Vietnam War hero who was working as a benefits counselor for the Veterans Administration. Like her, he'd changed his mind about how best to serve God; he'd left the priesthood in 1975.
"Right away, I figured she was the one," Charlie recalled last week over a dinner of some of his favorite foods that Judy prepared in their modest Sunnyside neighborhood home.
"I'd had this physical vision in my mind of a tall, slim brunette - and there she was."
Judy had harbored no visions, but she knew at the end of their first date that she wanted to see more of Charlie Liteky:
"I dropped him off near where he was living in the Tenderloin, and I was so bold as to lean over and kiss him goodnight."
It would take more than two years for Judy to say yes to Charlie's entreaties to marry. During that time he took his wounded pride to a cabin in Colorado with the idea of writing a novel, "But I ended up writing more love letters to her than I did chapters of the book."
Finally, on Oct. 22, 1983, the former nun and former priest were married in Judy's parish church, St. John of God. The bride was 41, the groom 52.
Three years later, Judy learned that being Charlie Liteky's wife would be like no other challenge she'd ever imagined: He told her he was going to Washington with another vet to protest U.S. aid to the contras with a water-only hunger strike on the Capitol steps.
"That decision had a finished-product characteristic to it. I had no impact on it," said Judy. "I do a little better when I have time to reposition myself, when things unfold, like the stages of this arrest and trial."
Said Charlie: "I don't know what I'd have done at that time if she'd said no - I probably would have gone ahead. But she didn't. She objected, but she was very good at listening to what was going on in my soul, and she honored that. She always has."
Honoring the goings-on in Charlie Liteky's soul would test the boundaries of any wife's love and commitment. A math, science and engineering teacher at Canada College in Belmont, Judy has spent long stretches away from Charlie, earning the bulk of the couple's income while he has been at the center of the decade-old campaign to close the School of the Americas.
In addition to his dangerous 47-day fast, she endured Charlie's first trespassing prison sentence in 1990 - six months in the federal pen in Allenwood, Pa.
Now, it's Lompoc for a year.
"Like going to war, going to prison as a protest is not a self-contained experience," said Judy. "I get a year's sentence, too."
It helps that she and Charlie still believe in a Creator whose son commanded his followers to love others without exclusion and to help the poor, enslaved and oppressed.
It helps, too, that Judy has been an astute student of social justice politics. When the annual march on Fort Benning comes around in November, she'll be there without Charlie.'
"The SOA movement has been an important one to both of us," she said. "I often think of those four Maryknoll nuns who were raped and murdered in El Salvador in 1980. I could imagine myself there, people like me being those women.
"I'm also aware that citizens' lobbying is not a sufficient way to change the U.S. government and its policies. The role of nonviolent protest is essential."
But, as both Litekys admit, political activism carries a high price.
"A year is a long time," Judy said, looking across the dining room table at Charlie. "He won't be home for dinner. I won't embrace him. So I am going to have to stretch and hope I'm going to learn what I need to learn while he's in prison."
Already, that stretching - and Barbara Sonneborn's documentary "Regret to Inform" - have led Judy to empathize with and connect spiritually to the actual widows of war.
"Women's way into the suffering of war has traditionally been through men," she said. "Wherever we met them, however we came to love them, we became their widow. In a sense, I'm learning what it is to be Charlie's Vietnam widow."
Perhaps the biggest help of all comes from the fact that Judy Liteky loves her husband with a quiet ferocity that can only come with long years and a shared mission.
"There is a history we can't take out of ourselves anymore. I can't not have known him this long," she said. "Through working with Charlie, I've had an incredible set of experiences, learning what it means for women to become a political voice.
"He's also shown me the importance of the symbol of witness - in prison or in crossing the line at Fort Benning. In a practical, greedy world, I believe it's important to all of us to surrender to such a symbol."
One break the Litekys will get in the coming year: Their 17th wedding anniversary falls on a Sunday. Judy will be permitted to visit Charlie in Lompoc.
"It won't be a consummated anniversary," Charlie joked.
"But I WILL be there," Judy said. "I promise."
Charles Liteky was released from the Lompoc Federal Correctional Institution in 2001.
Congressional Medal of Honor recipient addresses U.S. forces in Iraq.
By Charlie Liteky
May 7, 2003
By way of introduction, my name is Charlie Liteky, a U.S. citizen, a Vietnam Veteran, and a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient. However, I renounced the Medal of Honor on July 29,1986 in opposition to U.S foreign policy in Central America. What the U.S. was supporting in El Salvador and Nicaragua, namely the savagery and domination of the poor, reminded me of what I was a part of in Vietnam 15 years earlier.
I placed the medal at the apex of the Vietnam Memorial Wall into which are etched the names of 58 thousand young American men. In depth study of the Vietnam War revealed political and military liars insensitive to the value of human life, inclusive of their own countrymen. The biggest liar was the Commander in Chief of U.S. armed forces, President Lyndon Johnson, who lied to Congress about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. It was this lie that motivated Congress to vote the money for the war. As a veteran of an ill-fated war, in the waning years of my life, I’d like to share some reflections on my country’s attack on Iraq.
Once again, I find myself in protest of a U.S. military action that no court in the world will declare legal. The U.S. attack on the sovereign country of Iraq fails to meet any of the necessary provisions of a just war. Iraq on the other hand, met the most fundamental condition for a country to use military force against an adversary, namely the defense of its homeland against an unjust aggressor. But, because of the incredible superiority of the U.S. military, there was no possibility of a successful defense.
In its attack on Iraq, the U.S. violated the UN Charter, international law and universal standards of morality. This is borne out by the worldwide condemnation of the U.S. attack by mainstream religious denominations and spiritual leaders.
Claiming liberation of the Iraqi people as a just cause for a war that kills thousands of innocents is hypocrisy at its worst. If liberation of an oppressed people were the real motive behind the invasion of Iraq - why did the U.S. wait 25 years to act? Why did the U.S. refrain from condemning Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons in its war with Iran in the 80s? Why did the U.S. fail to prevent chemicals critical to the production of biological weapons from reaching Iraq? How is it that what we condemn today we approved yesterday?
Many Iraqi people rejoiced at the sight of their American/British liberators, but many more did not, because they had no legs to walk to the sites of celebration, no arms to wave in jubilation or they had no life left to celebrate. The sanitary military term for such people is “collateral damage.”
I first came to Iraq in November of 2002 in response to the bellicose words of war coming from the President of the U.S. and his staff. When I think of children, the most vulnerable of the innocents. In my imagination I could hear them crying, I could see the terror in their eyes and faces as they heard the planes overhead, followed by bombs exploding. I wanted to be with them to offer what small comfort I could.
This cartoon [of a sly, American eagle with its talons deeply planted in Iraqi earth] published in the Jordan Times on April 23, 2003 depicts what many Arab people believe is the U.S. motivation behind its attack on Iraq, namely, a deep-rooted, long-lasting presence. Recently, newspapers have reported that plans are underway to establish four military bases in Iraq.
What the cartoon does not include is the U.S. interest in and access to Iraq’s immense oil reserves. A two-time Medal of Honor recipient, General Smedley Butler, said that “War is a Racket” and that he spent his 33 year military career being a bodyguard for U.S. business interests. I submit that protecting U.S. business interests, sometimes referred to as “national interests” is still the primary mission of the U.S. military. Wartime profits go to a select few at the cost of many. Again to quote Gen. Smedley:
“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
This letter containing some of my reflections is not meant to cast blame for an attack on Iraq on U.S. military personnel. I’m sure you believe that what you are a part of is right and just. I once believed the same of my participation in the Vietnam War. I share my thoughts and conclusions as gifts of truth revealed to me through years of studying U.S. foreign policy.
PS: God be with you in your search for truth, your quest for justice, and your efforts to help a beautiful people.
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