Charles Liteky

Army Hero Turned Activist

Reverend James Lawson, Blase Bonpane, and Charlie Clements have been joined by Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor winner Charles Liteky (blue sweatshirt). Two weeks earlier, Liteky and three other veterans ended their Veterans Fast for Life for Peace In Central America. For 47 days they fasted on the Capital steps in Washington, D.C. in protest of President Reagan's Central America policy.

 

Vet says protest against military school has been an "act of conscience"

 By Michael Taylor, June 9, 2000

A federal judge sentenced Charles Liteky, a former Army chaplain and war hero turned lifelong demonstrator, to the maximum sentence of one year in prison yesterday, a term Liteky said he welcomed as a way of drawing attention to his cause.

Standing at the lectern in a Columbus, Ga., courtroom, 69-year- old Liteky, who lives part-time in San Francisco, read a 10-minute statement to U.S. District Judge Hugh Lawson. The judge leaned forward and listened intently, clearly interested in hearing why one of 147 living recipients of the Medal of Honor would willingly spend a year of his life in prison.

Liteky got his one-year sentence and a fine of $10,000 for two counts of illegally trespassing at Fort Benning, the sprawling Army infantry post that is home to the controversial School of the Americas, a training facility for Latin American military officers.

Liteky and other critics charge that many of the school's graduates have been responsible for massacres of peasants and human rights workers in Central and South America.

"I consider it an honor to be going to prison as a result of an act of conscience in response to a moral imperative that impelled and obligated me to speak for voices silenced by graduates of the School of the Americas, a military institution that has brought shame to our country and the U.S. Army,'' Liteky told Lawson.

Under terms of the sentence, Liteky, who is not in custody, will be notified by mail within six weeks about which federal prison he should report to. He said yesterday that he suspects he will be sent to Lompoc in Southern California.

Liteky's years of protesting and his occasional appearances before federal judges -- he did six months in prison 10 years ago for the same offense - might well be overlooked had he not received the nation's highest award for bravery in combat. He then became one of only two of the 3,410 recipients of the Medal of Honor to give it back, again as an act of protest.

Liteky was awarded the medal (under the name of Angelo J. Liteky) for saving the lives of 23 soldiers during a fierce firefight in Vietnam in December 1967. At the time, he was a Catholic priest and was serving in the Army as a chaplain. He has since resigned from his religious order.

During the one-hour court session in Columbus, Lawson told Liteky that he did not understand "the connection between what is going on at the School of the Americas and this court.''

Liteky said after sentencing that he intends to write Lawson from prison "because I want him to understand that connection.''

"We're doing acts of civil disobedience in the tradition of our democracy,'' he said. ``This has been going on for a long time. And in going to prison, I'm drawing attention to the issue. I'm happy with his ruling.''

Liteky's wife, Judy, a former nun, joined him in court yesterday. "My main reason for being here,'' she said later, "was to be with Charlie. The sentence is longer than I thought it would be, so I'm going to have to take some time to get used to a whole year.''

Correspondent Jason Miczek in Georgia contributed to this report.

 

After the Vietnam War

Captain Charles Angelo J. Liteky, Chaplain, 199th Light Infantry Brigade. Republic of Vietnam, 1969.
 Photo courtesy of Paul Phillips

 In 1975, he left the Catholic priesthood. In 1983, he married a former nun named Judy Balch, who encouraged his involvement in social justice activities, particularly protesting the School of theAmericas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Fort Benning, Georgia. On July 29, 1986, he renounced his Medal of Honor by placing it in an envelope addressed to then-President Ronald Reagan near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The decoration is now on display at the National Museum of American History. In doing this, Liteky (who is now known as Charles Liteky) is the only MOH recipient to renounce the Medal of Honor.[ He has been arrested and imprisoned several times for trespassing in attempts to disrupt activities at Fort Benning. In recent years, he has also opposed the United States’ invasion of Iraq.

Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angelo_Liteky

 

 

Angelo Charles Liteky: Vietnam Chaplin

They inspire, give comfort and pray for safety.
Throughout America’s history, chaplains have ‘come nigh unto the battle.’

By Lisa Miller
Newsweek

During his tour in Vietnam, Angelo Charles Liteky, a Roman Catholic chaplain, often traveled with the forward line because he thought it was important to know what the boys out front were feeling. That way, when they broke down, he would be better able to persuade them to soldier on. On Dec. 6, 1967, Liteky was near the village of Phuoc Lac when his battalion came under heavy fire. Walking upright through raining bullets, Liteky singlehandedly dragged 20 wounded soldiers to a landing strip so they could be evacuated. “It was strictly compassion,” he tells NEWSWEEK. “We are supposed to grow in love, and when I saw these guys just getting killed all around me, there was nothing for me to do but go and help them.” The next year, President Lyndon Johnson gave Liteky the congressional Medal of Honor.

Liteky saying mass for soldiers in Vietnam

History’s battlefields have almost always held a place for men and women of God—someone to inspire and give comfort, give parents and fiancées the bad news, file forms, educate, pray for safety and, failing that, safe passage. Deuteronomy 20:2-4 says, “And it shall be when ye are come nigh unto the battle, that the priest shall approach and speak unto the people.” In America, the role of military chaplain has, in the past 250 years, grown from ad hoc—the village pastor who fought with the boys in his congregation—to bureaucratic. But from the start, the job has had inherent tensions: To whom does the chaplain ultimately report? To the troops who need guidance? The government that pays the bills? God? And in the hell of war, how does a chaplain hold on to faith?

George Washington thought chaplains belonged in the military and he wrote 50 letters saying so; in 1775, Congress approved funding. Almost immediately, though, the position raised ethical and constitutional questions. In his “Detached Memoranda,” James Madison worried that military chaplains might violate the Establishment Clause.

In the 1840s, a group of Protestants from Tennessee wrote a letter to the secretary of War, saying they didn’t want their tax dollars to pay for a Catholic chaplain—and as the diversity of the U.S. troops grew (black and Jewish chaplains joined the military in the Civil War), so did these tensions. Two years ago, the Air Force had to issue a statement saying it didn’t prefer one religion to another after staffers complained of proselytizing by evangelicals; in 2004, General William G. Boykin was reprimanded for making anti-Muslim remarks.

On a frigid night in 1943, the U.S. transport ship Dorchester was sailing near Greenland when it was hit by a torpedo from a German sub. Among the dead were four chaplains—two Protestants, a Catholic and a Jew—who gave their own life jackets to men on deck. They could be heard praying together as the massive ship slipped under water, and their sacrifice and compassion became the stuff of legend.

As for Liteky, his own struggle with faith continues. In 1975, he gave up the priesthood; 10 years later, he gave back his medal in protest over U.S. policies in Central America. Now, at 76, he’s a pacifist and he’s renounced his religion: “I couldn’t continue to worship a God that I thought was an angry God, or a punishing God. I haven’t found another one yet.” When he finds one that will help him “grow in love,” perhaps he will.

With Sarah Childress, Sarina Rosenberg and John Barry

© 2007 Newsweek

 

 

Subscribe to Charles Liteky