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Pvt. Grandma? Seniors try to ‘enlist' in protest of Iraq war

A small crowd marches from the Martin Luther King Commons at Northern Illinois University to the military recruitment office on Lucinda Avenue as part of an antiwar rally on Thursday afternoon. Chronicle photo CURTIS CLEGG
A small crowd marches from the Martin Luther King Commons at Northern Illinois University to the military recruitment office on Lucinda Avenue as part of an antiwar rally on Thursday afternoon. Chronicle photo CURTIS CLEGG

DeKALB - As part of a demonstration against the Iraq war, a group of middle-aged and senior-citizen protesters active in local peace movements marched to DeKalb's military recruitment office Thursday under the guise of signing up for service. Following speeches at Northern Illinois University's MLK Commons by Democratic congressional candidate John Laesch and by Dan Bono, a member of student group Northern Coalition for Peace and Justice, more than 20 people lined up for a march down to the recruitment office. Patrick Spillane, a DeKalb resident since 1994, literally beat an antiwar drum as the group went north on Normal Road, hung a left at Lucinda Avenue and continued to the recruiting station at 901 Lucinda under police escort. Some of the marchers carried signs brandishing antiwar slogans such as &#8220War is hell” and &#8220Red Alert: U.S. government out of control.” Cele Meyer of the DeKalb Interfaith Network for Peace and Justice said the police were there to accompany the marchers. One officer stopped traffic at Normal and Lucinda to allow the marchers to pass by. When the marchers reached the recruiting office, two other police officers were present and the marchers entered the office to inquire about enlisting. The recruiter, Sgt. Chambala Cuney, greeted DeKalb residents Meyer and Lolly Voss and offered them information on the military's age restrictions and requirements, which basically said they were too old to enlist. Meyer and Voss eventually asked if they could come in and sit down. Cuney said that people with appointments were on their way in and that they couldn't accommodate their request. Meyer also asked whether copies of the age policy document could be obtained for all seniors there. Cuney said it couldn't. &#8220With us doing the enlistment packets we run out of paper very often,” he said. The enlistment attempts were meant to be a symbolic protest against the war. &#8220We want to go in place of our grandchildren,” said Voss, a DeKalb County resident for more than 35 years. Voss and Meyer were the first two marchers to attempt to &#8220enlist.” Voss, a former teacher in the Hinckley-Big Rock School District, ran into one of her former students, Nicole Begne, while waiting for Cuney to print out the age policy documents. They recognized each other immediately. &#8220Hey, Nicole, what are you doing here?” Voss asked her. &#8220I'm enlisting,” Begne said. &#8220Really, are you? My heart goes with you,” Voss said. Meyer and Voss both tried to dissuade Begne from enlisting. &#8220You know, they're losing more and more every day,” Meyer said. &#8220They say they don't have enough troops and the American people are not willing to send more, so the ones that go are really on their own.” Another DeKalb resident who inquired about enlistment was Cliff Cleland, a 1965 NIU graduate who has lived in DeKalb for more than 35 years. Cleland said he liked the idea of grandfathers enlisting instead of their grandchildren. He noted the act was an obvious protest. Only one of the marchers who attempted to enlist was even close to being eligible for service. Spillane is an eight-year naval veteran, and his age of 43 made him eligible for enlistment. The maximum age for enlistment is 42, but his prior service put him in a different eligibility category. Recruiters told him, however, he wouldn't meet the height and weight requirements. Before the march to the recruitment office, Laesch, who is running against Speaker Dennis Hastert in the 14th Congressional District, highlighted his stance on the Iraq war. Laesch is a former naval intelligence officer. Part of his message was aimed directly at U.S. troops, such as his brother, Pete Laesch, who he said is serving with the U.S. Army in Baghdad, Iraq. &#8220My fellow brothers and sisters, I support our troops and I believe that supporting our troops means getting out of Iraq,” John Laesch said. He said he disagreed with the Bush administration's framing of the Iraq war as part of the overall war on terror. &#8220I want to make sure the American people know that Iraq is not connected to the war on terror,” Laesch said. Attendance at the rally, sponsored by the DeKalb Interfaith Network and the Northern Coalition for Peace and Justice, numbered in the dozens.

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