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Retired colonel drawn to Middle East Conflicts Wall

Marseilles memorial included in documentary film

Retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich Sr. has been drawn to the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles since his son was killed on May 13, 2007, by a bomb while on patrol in Balad, Iraq.

His son's name, First Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, is on panel 5B, row 29 of the wall. Bacevich said he has visited the wall twice.

“Besides the fact that my son, Andrew, is on the wall, I think this place captures an important truth,” he said. “All of the adventures in the Middle East, all the names on these panels from the Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia wars is part of an important truth. Unfortunately no one else really recognizes that these wars are not wars on terrorism, but at some level, they are wars on oil.”

Bacevich shared these observances with camera crews at the memorial wall last week in part of a documentary based on his book, "America's War for the Greater Middle East."

Bacevich knows and understands the country's military history. He is an American historian specializing in international relations, security studies, American foreign policy, and American diplomatic and military history. He also was a career officer in the Armor Branch of the United States Army, retiring with the rank of colonel.

He's written several military history books, but a friend suggested "America's War for the Greater Middle East" would make a great documentary film.

Part of the Middle East conflicts story is the memorial wall.

“Marseilles has created a physical expression of these wars, and we wanted it to be part of this film,” Bacevich said.

In the documentary segment filmed May 9 in Marseilles, Joseph "Chief" Cairo, who serves as treasurer for the Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run organization, and Ron Dickerson, of the Middle East Conflicts Museum, spoke with Bacevich about the history of the wall.

Cairo explained some of the history of the Freedom Run event, hosted annually in June since 2004.

“We first began the motorcycle run in Joliet,” Cairo said. “During the early years, 5,000 bikes would participate in the ceremony that honors our fallen heroes and our Gold Star Families. Every year, we've picked up additional riders on the trip to Marseilles. For the last few years, we've started at the Grundy County Fairgrounds in Morris. Last year, about 3,000 came through the gates.”

When Bacevich asked why the count had declined, Cairo said it was a matter of age.

“Guys are getting older. Younger guys like their crotch rockets and they really don't join clubs or Veteran groups like we did. But most people understand how important this wall is to veterans and their families, so it's still a very well-attended event. It's just extremely sad that every year we continue to add names to the wall.”

Dickerson discussed the memorial's history.

“Eighteen years ago, while working for Marseilles Telephone Company and managing partner for IV Cellular, my job was to find new quarters for IVC. With the help of the city, IVC chose its present location. During its construction, Tony Cutrano, one of the two original founders of Freedom Run, asked me about his idea of building a memorial there. I asked some questions, did a couple of sketches and with the approval of MTCO, who owns the property, and the city's help, the memorial was built.”

“I'm a veteran,” Dickerson continued, “as were the three major MTCO stockholders, which may have had some influence on MTCO permitting the memorial on its property. I've been representing MTCO's interests with the memorial and Marseilles ever since.”

Bacevich noted the difference between the Vietnam Wall and The Middle East Conflicts Wall.

“In Washington, D.C., we have the national shrine to our Vietnam veterans. But this wall is so different. And what I'm most struck about is that our fellow citizens recognize our Vietnam veterans and yet, our fellow citizens don't seem to think this wall is as important.”

“These walls are all about all wars,” Bacevich continued. “Why don't people seem to care about this wall like they do about the Vietnam wall? And a more important question, why aren't there any anti-war movements like there were during the Vietnam War? We all seem to have an absence of awareness of our military and the countries they are in.”

Dickerson offered another possible answer to the Colonel's questions.

“I think our country feels safer today so we're more complacent about what is going on in the world," he said.

Bacevich both asked and answered what he called the fundamental question about wars in the Middle East:

“Are they politically purposeful? Do they contribute to some outcome ... that either advances U.S. interests or is consistent with our ostensible moral values?

"And the answer, of course, is no.”

Bacevich said from the end of World War II to 1980, few American military servicemen were killed in action in Middle Eastern nations. However, since 1990, the Greater Middle East is where the majority of American servicemen are killed.

“Unfortunately, we'll be adding 28 new names to the wall this Tuesday," Cairo said. “Right now, there are 7,963 names on this wall, and with Tuesday's addition, we'll have over 8,000 names. That's too many.”

Docmentary crews also filmed in the Middle East Conflicts Museum. Dickerson reminded those present the museum is open during regular business hours on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays through Veterans Day.

David Schisgall, documentary filmmaker and writer, said there is no set date for when the documentary will be completed and released.

The 17th annual Illinois Motorcycle Freedom Run at Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial will take place Saturday, June 15. For more information, visit middleeastconflictswall.org.

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