Nearly 50 U.S. military veterans returned their service medals on Sunday during a protest against NATO in Chicago, with each of them throwing their medals over a security fence in a symbolic protest meant to evoke images of the Vietnam war era.
The soldiers’ demonstration came at the tail end of protests that ground Chicago to a standstill over the weekend as tens of thousands marched against the continued war in Afghanistan, inaction on climate change, income inequality and a litany of other progressive causes.
Among the veterans returning their medals was Scott Olsen, a former U.S. Marine who was shot in the face with a tear gas canister last October by police in Oakland. “These medals, once upon a time, made me feel good about what I was doing,” he explained. “They made me feel like I was doing the right thing. Then I came back to reality, and I don’t want these anymore.”
Another soldier, Sgt. Jacob George, who has served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, was quoted by an ABC News affiliate in Chicago as saying he was “willing to give them back even though it’s a very emotional thing for me.”
A total of 45 veterans threw their medals over a peremeter fence set up by Secret Service, in a scene designed to recall images from one of the most widely seen protests against the Vietnam war four years before that conflict’s ultimate end in 1975. A NATO representative did not respond to the soldiers’ request to formally receive the medals.
The demonstration was unfortunately marred by so-called “Black Bloc” protesters who tried to push through a police line following the veterans’ display, creating a dreadful, violent scene as television cameras rolled. Four police officers and dozens of protesters were left wounded by the time the melee was done. About 45 people were arrested, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.
President Barack Obama has promised to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan in 2014, while continuing to support Afghan defense forces for the next decade. A CBS/New York Times poll in March found that just 23 percent of Americans still support the continued occupation, now in its 11th year.
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