terry White House

Marine veteran Amir Hekmati is approaching his 1000th day of incarceration in Iran’s Evin Prison. It is where the Iranians keep political prisoners. The anniversary date falls on Memorial day and, accordingly, the family has chosen to mark the event with a vigil one week earlier out of respect for our solemn tradition.

At this time, I think it’s important to note this distinction. Every year many of us veterans bump our gums about the way the celebration of Memorial Day has evolved. And I don’t mean the way people celebrate it as the unofficial start of summer. On Memorial day, a lot of Americans take the time to thank a veteran, but it is not the veterans that we celebrate that day.  It is for the dead, not living.  It is for people like Manila John Basilone or Randy Shugart, who died in combat.

So an event commemorating Amir’s 1000th day does not belong on that day because as a prisoner of the cold war between our two nations, he is still very much alive. Anyone who thinks he would be in prison right now if he hadn’t served in the Corps is fooling themselves. He is as close to a POW as you can get in the context of our two nation’s relations. But he is alive. VERY much alive, and so this is no memorial event. This is a celebration of hope. 

I don’t know Amir personally, never served with him, but the dearth of coverage about him always stuck in my craw. So I would go to the White House, stand out front with a huge sign, explaining to tourists who he was. My act of protest was never directed at the president; the State Department has been working hard for the Hekmati’s throughout. I went there because it is the seat of the ultimate expression of our power as the people. 

The term “president” was originally chosen as a title for our leader to reinforce the job’s lack of exaltation. When it was chosen, a president was someone who presided over a meeting, or a club, not someone who led anything of consequence. This, and many other aspects of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, was specifically designed to outline that the power of the government stems from the people.

So I thought it appropriate to go there. To let the people who came to take pictures at the seat of our government see that one of their own was missing. One of us. 

Tomorrow I will serve a symbolic 1000 minute sentence to help bring attention to Amir’s 1000 day ordeal. I do it because he is one of our own, one of the family.

About that. The fraternal nature of the Marine Corps was an important factor in what I did. There are other people held by Iran and other countries and they have their champions. But something about Amir made me act. I am not particularly moto, a term Marines may know. For those of you not in the know, picture the ultimate expression of Marine veteran-ness. Shiny scarlet jacket, screaming high and tight, nearly unintelligible jargon, with every sentence punctuated with an ‘oohrah.’ I love my moto brothers, but I also love my wisecracking Terminal Lance reading sarcastic Marine family as well. 

I am somewhere in the middle, but with very strong feelings about certain aspects of the relationship. These people are my family, and as such I feel a strong bond to them. You know the saying, “you can’t choose your family”? As it usually is used to bemoan the actions of your crazy uncle, in this case it is not the foundation of a complaint. I can’t choose who joins the Marines. Every able-bodied person who has ever risen to the challenge of the question “Do you have what it takes to be a Marine” is potentially part of that family. People rise to that challenge for a variety of reasons. You can ask me about mine sometime, if you want a chuckle.

No matter what, if someone is a Marine, I know they answered that question the same way as I did and proved themselves a part of the family.

So the question is not why am I showing up at midnight in Lafayette Park and confining myself to a space no bigger than Amir’s cell. 

The question is; how could I not? It’s the least I could do for my brother.

 

Advertisements