Each Memorial Day, as the country honors those who have died in war, the Madison area chapter of Veterans for Peace uses the opportunity to call for peace.
The group is hosting its annual peace rally Monday afternoon. And throughout the week, members hope to keep the lives of those lost in war on the minds of Madison residents by placing simulated grave markers along a busy east-side road.
“It’s an alternative to the regular Memorial Day programs which are everywhere across the state,” said David Giffey, a founding member of Veterans for Peace Chapter 25, who will emcee the rally. “The traditional Memorial Day programs have, we feel, a very militaristic flavor, and our program is really a peace event.”
Beginning on Saturday, those passing Olbrich Park on Atwood Avenue will see the more than 6,000 simulated grave markers that make up the “Memorial Mile,” intended to draw attention to U.S. fatalities in wars still being waged in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.
The rally, which begins at 1 p.m. on Monday at the Gates of Heaven in James Madison Park, will focus on “finding peace and comfort in uncertain times,” according a press release. The event will feature a speech from state Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, on the value of “labor, peace, government, citizens’ rights and immigrant communities.”
The rally will also include former Madison police chief, priest and poet David Couper, whose book “Arrested Development” explores recurring obstacles facing police today, and will honor high school students from across the region whose essays on peace and nonviolence won the chapter’s scholarship competition.
The chapter has members from “all conflicts and so-called peace time,” said Giffey, who served as a combat journalist and editor in the Vietnam War. He was drafted while working as a newspaper editor in the Fox River Valley.
The group’s founder, the late Clarence Kailin, was a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of the Spanish Civil War.
“We are veterans,” Giffey said. “Our mission is to educate ourselves and our families and communities about the human and monetary costs of war.”
For Giffey, this is not a once-a-year project: For more than two decades, he has painted scenes inspired by his service years “to illustrate with paint my dismal, frightening and emotional memories of war.”