Some protest use of casket in anti-war demonstrations

Vigil organizer says it's important to remind people of the cost of the conflict

Posted: Friday, October 28, 2005

War protesters should be more sensitive to the feelings of Juneau families with sons and daughters in Iraq, said a woman who objects to a periodic local anti-war demonstration featuring a flag-draped casket.

"What about the mothers?" Sharon Parks asked. "Shouldn't they be more sensitive to the families?"

This week Veterans for Peace and Juneau People for Peace and Justice held a vigil with the flag-draped casket in the Dimond Courthouse Plaza, near the State Capitol Building. Parks said it was the second time she had seen the casket.

"I respect my son for what he's doing," Parks said. "He believes in his country."

Her son, Sgt. Albert Schoonover, is a member of the Alaska Army National Guard's 207th aviation unit. She exchanges e-mail messages with him regularly and said he has seen about 70 hours of combat. He has served in the National Guard for 14 years, after four years in the Air Force, and also was deployed in Kosovo.

"I'm proud of them for what they're doing," Parks said of the troops.

The casket, she added, "pulls at the heart."

It is an insensitive to people who have loved ones at risk, she said.

"We've encountered folks with that opinion," said John Dunker, president of the Alaska Chapter of Veterans for Peace.

He said it isn't the prevalent opinion he hears, and he doesn't believe the demonstration is insensitive.

The Alaska chapter has about 30 to 35 members statewide and about 20 active in Juneau.

"We think it's important to hold the cost of the war up to public view," he said. "We don't want it casually swept under the rug. This is not business as usual."

Wednesday's demonstration let people know the death toll for American servicemen had topped 2,000.

"I personally find the exploitation of the fallen to be very repugnant," Dunker said. "It's been done to promote war as long as I can remember."

That isn't what the flag-draped casket is doing, he said.

Parks said the men and women serving in Iraq deserve better.

"We should all show them our support," she said. "Let's not treat them the way our Vietnam veterans were treated."

Dunker served in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966 and knows some soldiers were greeted with hostility when they returned. He didn't face that himself.

"We don't see this (demonstration) as anti-military at all," Dunker said. "We are friends with a number of military people and military families. We don't see the unrelenting peace movement as being anti-troop."

Juneau resident Greg Pease lost a family member in the Iraq war. Marine Lance Cpl. Grant Frasier was his ex-wife's nephew and his son's cousin.

Pease said he supports the troops but believes the government should be open about the war effort and its cost.

"We should be honest with people about why we're in Iraq," he said.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.



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