In a show of solidarity, anti-war protestors and supporters of the nation’s first Army officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, marched through Little Tokyo on Saturday, demanding justice for First Lt. Ehren Watada.
Chanting slogans printed in bold across their picket signs, participants in the march sponsored by Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress and the Asian American Vietnam Veterans Organization shouted “Bush and Cheney lied, thousands died,” as they paraded up and down First and Second streets, through the Japanese Village Plaza and down Central Avenue until they arrived at the Higashi Honganji Temple on Third Street.
It wasn’t just members of NCRR and the AAVVO who attended though. Among the nearly 250 marchers were notable guest Carolyn Ho, Watada’s mother, who arrived after stops to Watada demonstrations in the Mid west and on the East Coast; and Helga Aguayo, wife of Spc. Agustin Aguayo, a conscientious objector to the war, who went absent without leave on Sept. 1, 2006 after three years of trying to be recognized as a conscientious objector by the Army. He is currently being held in pre-trial confinement in Manheim Prison, Coleman Barracks, Germany.
While support for Watada’s actions is not ubiquitous, no counter-protestors showed up to argue their point of view. This is because doing so would be counter-productive, according to Robert Wada, founder of the Japanese American Korean War Veteran’s group.
But the issue of Wataa’s refusal to deploy has many JA veterans upset, according to Wada, because Watada “took an oath as an officer in the Army. He trained with his unit” and “let them down” when he refused to go to Iraq.
As supporters gathered in Higashi Honganji Temple’s downstairs social hall for a program that included guest speakers and performance artist Nobuko Miyamoto and Olmeca, Aguayo’s wife, flanked by her daughters, took center stage after others had spoken.
“We (the Aguayo women) saw you marching, and it touched us in a way that words can’t explain. Thank you, “ she said, her voice wavering with emotion.
She was followed by Ho, who said, “There’s momentum growing in this country, and it will not stop. My son speaks out for other soldiers. There are those who fight because if they don’t, they won’t get paid or get medical support. They have families. So my son is saying, you must help them. Adopt this family and give them tangible and emotional support.”