Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan returned their service medals to visiting NATO representatives Sunday to express their opposition to America's role in these conflicts, and to demand better care for returning forces.
Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War organized a day-long protest, including a musical performance at the Petrillo Music Shell, a march and rally through the city and a ceremony at Michigan and Cermak where participants hoped to return their medals to visiting NATO generals.
(Scroll down to watch interviews with the veterans from "Democracy Now!")
While Rev. Jesse Jackson and other political leaders spoke to demonstrators before they began a massive march through downtown Chicago, the group was unable to bring visiting NATO generals to accept their medals, so the 45 participating veterans hurled them at McCormick Place, where NATO meetings were taking place, according to ABC.
The veterans joined forces with their former enemies, including the group Afghans for Peace, who said their missions are closely aligned--to end
"I'd like to direct my message to the NATO representatives here in Chicago today," said Suraia Sahar of Afghans for Peace, according to MSNBC. "For what you’ve done to my home country, I’m enraged; for what you’ve done to my people, I’m disgusted; for what you’ve done to these veterans, I’m heartbroken. I sympathize with their disappointment and being failed by the system and having their lives, their morals and humanity, toiled with."
IVAW organizer and veteran Aaron Hughes, who pulled out of the University of Illinois in 2003 to serve in Kuwait under Operation Iraqi Freedom, says one of the group's main concerns is the need for adequate mental health care for returning servicemen and women, according to NBC Chicago.
On average, 18 veterans commit suicide every day, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is rampant among veterans who've seen combat, according to CBS Chicago.
The peaceful demonstration organized by IVAW was soon overshadowed as violence broke out during a standoff between police and protesters Sunday evening, resulting in 45 arrests and four police officers suffering injuries –- one from a stab wound in the leg.
WATCH veterans discuss their decisions to toss their service medals Sunday: