Veterans keep fighting — against curfew for memorial

Richard Lynch of Staten Island, a constant presence in Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wall Street, being arrested at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on April 4.  Photo by Jefferson Siegel

Richard Lynch of Staten Island, a constant presence in Zuccotti Park during Occupy Wall Street, being arrested at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on April 4. Photo by Jefferson Siegel

BY JEFFERSON SIEGEL  |  group of activist local veterans have put the lie to General Douglas MacArthur’s famous saying, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

For the fourth time in three years, several indomitable gaffers were arrested late last Friday night at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Water St. in Lower Manhattan. Their chief complaint has been the memorial’s posted closing time of 10 p.m. The vets feel they should be able to visit their own monument anytime.

“We believe that the need to grieve, and the need for reflection, cannot be legislated,” said Bill Perry, 67, a disabled veteran, who was one of three vets and three supporters arrested.

Just before the 10 p.m. closing time, Walter Gafforio, 67, stood in the rain holding a banner reading, “Nightmares of War Don’t End at 10 p.m.”

“I can’t see how the police arrest a bunch of old vets for standing in front of their memorial, when they leave the bankers alone,” said Gafforio, who served in the Army in Vietnam.

A police commander gave several warnings through a bullhorn, before officers, their belts holding clumps of plastic handcuffs, began lining the six up against a glass wall of the memorial.

“There’s no reason for this park to be closed,” said John Spitzberg, 76, a member of Veterans For Peace, before he was led away.

As the crowd chanted, “Shame,” the six were walked to a police van, where their photos were taken before they were loaded inside.

Perry, a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, said police were patient and respectful of those who were cuffed. They were taken to the 7th Precinct, given summonses and released an hour later.

At their trial last July, more than a dozen vets arrested for trespassing under similar circumstances in 2012 were found guilty but had their charges dismissed.

At that trial’s conclusion, Judge Robert Mandelbaum, looking over a courtroom of defendants aged 50 to 86, reasoned that, “Justice cries out for a dismissal.”

However, Mandelbaum cautioned, “A dismissal here can in no way be taken as a license for anyone here to return to the plaza after 10 p.m.”

The six will be back in summons court on June 18.

While past demonstrations at the memorial have coincided with the anniversary of the start of the war in Afghanistan, last Friday’s was part of Wave of Action, a worldwide effort marked by gatherings and protests at former Occupy Wall Street locations.

Almost lost in the cluster of Friday’s events was another sad milestone, as 2,301 Americans were listed killed in Afghanistan since the start of that war.

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