(Photo: Bill Sanders , [email protected] )


ASHEVILLE – Since 1985, U.S. military veterans who served their country with honor have worked collectively through the nonprofit Veterans for Peace to change the way Americans view wars and their physical, mental and financial costs.

Several hundred veterans and nonveteran allies from across the country have been in Asheville this week for the grassroots organization’s 29th national convention, based at UNC Asheville and including some 40 workshops and a variety of speakers, panel discussions, documentary film screenings and other events.

These veterans, whose service ranges from World War II and Vietnam to modern-day Iraq, defy the image of stoic soldiers saluting authority without question. Following their own military experiences, members of VFP now work to educate the public, advocate for a dismantling of the war economy, provide services that assist veterans and victims of war and, most significantly, work toward an end to all wars.

The display tables in the lobby of Lipinsky Auditorium were packed with literature about drones, nuclear warfare, corporate personhood, the military industrial complex and the lasting effects of Agent Orange, along with a vast array of T-shirts with somber messages and books ranging from Vonnegut’s “A Man Without a Country” to Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.”

Veterans for Peace member Jim Ryerson, who served six years in the Air Force and is now a documentary filmmaker in Los Angeles, said it was only after working for years as a professional journalist that he began to see “how a lot of lies were being told, and that started me getting more and more interested in the information blockade in this country.”

“All of these people have given part of their lives for the government. We had Vietnam, then suddenly we see ourselves involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and these young people had no idea … so many went in and lost their lives for something that was a lie.”

Albert Penta, now retired and living in Seattle, served 10 years in the Navy before leaving as a conscientious objector in 1969 “because I didn’t want to be part of the war machine any longer.”

As the two men sat on the quad during a break in Saturday’s activities, they noted that many veterans in the VFP organization have a particular area of interest, “but there is an overall connection among all of us around the basic issue of war and peace, and the truthfulness of the government and the truthfulness of the media,” Penta said.

“It feels horrible to see these young people pulled off into the same garbage (in Iraq) as in Vietnam, and the membership of this group wants to reach out to young people and say we’re with you and we know you were lied to,” Ryerson said.

Penta referred to the saying, “Speak truth to power,” and said Veterans for Peace is “holding up an alternate vision” in which members work to restrain the U.S. government from intervening in the internal affairs of other nations, to end the arms race and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons, and to abolish war as an instrument of national policy.

Marie Combs, of Asheville, who served eight years in the Navy and is the mother of two young children, said she feels sadness and even guilt sometimes that, unlike mothers in war-torn countries, she can count on waking up each day, having breakfast and going to work without worrying about her family’s home being bombed in the night.

Volunteering at the convention, Combs said, was one small way she could contribute to the overall goal of peace in the world. She added that work of Veterans for Peace serves to “help dismiss the idea that veterans are just ‘yes men’ and ‘yes women’ who all believe whatever we’re told.”

“Many of us have our eyes open,” she said, “and we see what’s going on.”


The 29th national convention of Veterans For Peace concludes Sunday with veterans serving breakfast to the poor and homeless in Pritchard Park from 8:30-9:30 a.m., followed by a Peace Walk at 9:30 a.m. and speakers and a closing ceremony downtown from 9:45 a.m.-noon.

Contact Asheville Chapter 99 of Veterans For Peace at 258-1800.