This year’s 3 day vigil at the STRATCOM gate started with a Mass and pot luck dinner at the Omaha CW Thursday night Aug. 5th. Fr Bert Thelen, SJ was our celebrant. Fr Bert is the pastor of St John’s Church on Creighton University campus and is the reason we are able to do hospitality in its basement for our retreats. All the main folks who were joining us for the full 3 œ days of vigiling were on hand for the Mass and pot luck. Fr. Kevin Maksym and Sr. Michele Denton, who traveled from the Detroit area were a welcome addition to our small contingent, consisting of Ed Bloomer and myself from the Des Moines CW community, Mark Kenney from Omaha, and Jerry Ebner and Mike Brennan from the Omaha CW.
One could rightly say that this year’s vigil truly was done in a spirit of penance, if the heat of the days is factored in. We started off on a typical hot day on Friday Aug. 6, with the temperature in the mid 90’s; the temps and humidity got progressively hotter each day. On our last day of vigiling the heat index reached well over 100 degrees. At times it felt like we were in a Lakota Indian Sweat without a lodge. Plenty of breaks were taken and water consumed. Throughout the first three days friends and supporters came out to visit and encourage us. We reached the critical double digit mark of people at the vigil on Saturday, Aug 7th. The high point came on Sunday, Aug 8th with Fr Kevin Maksym presiding over the Mass we celebrated on site.
The interactions between we protesters and the Offutt security officers remained cordial throughout the entire vigil, with the officers regularly making certain we were holding up well in the heat, and had enough water to drink.
THE WITNESS AND LINE CROSSING:
Before the vigil two, long-time Omaha peace activists, Fr. Jack McCaslin (81), and Mark Kenney (53), declared their intent to ‘cross the line’ on Aug 9th. Both Fr Jack and Mark have long histories of protesting at Offutt AFB and have ‘crossed the line’ multiple times through the years. Both have been charged and convicted of Federal trespass and “breaking ban and bar letters” for doing so. Mark is a veteran of the US Nuclear Navy. He has served over a year of jail time for previous ‘line crossings’ and Fr. Jack has served a 30 day sentence for similar charges at Offutt.
Fr. Jack last ‘crossed the line’ on Dec, 28, 2005. After being found guilty of trespass in US Federal Court, the Federal Magistrate did not send Fr. Jack to jail but instead sentenced him to probation because of his age and his health issues. However, the judge promised he would not hesitate to send Fr. Jack to jail should he ‘cross the line’ again.
So the word went out that Fr. Jack and Mark were planning on crossing the line again.
Then after the Mass at the Omaha Catholic Worker House on Thursday Aug. 5th word came that Peg Gallagher was going to join her friends Fr. Jack and Mark in crossing the line on Aug 9th. Peg has also “crossed the line” at Offutt AFB multiple times and she was not going to let her friends Fr. Jack and Mark ‘cross the line’ and risk going to jail without her. Peg is 92 yrs old. She was last arrested at the STRATCOM Space Weapons Show last Nov. in Omaha.
The following day, Saturday, Fr. Jack let it be known that his friend Charlie Wolford, a Catholic Deacon from Missouri Valley, IA, was also planning to cross the line. Charlie has crossed the line a number of years ago with is wife Gurina. A widower now, at 83 yrs old, he is retired and helps out at St Patrick’s Church in Missouri Valley part time. Charlie was also in the US Navy during WWII and visited Nagasaki Japan a month after it was A-bombed and saw firsthand the catastrophically destructive nature of nuclear weapons.
Now the number of line crossers was four and a buzz was going around about their planned crossings. By the time of the closing ceremony on Monday Aug. 9th at 11 a.m. over 30 gathered at the main entrance of Offutt AFB to be support for the four. Kudos go to Mike Sprong and Dagmar Hoxsie from the Yankton CW who came the furthest to be on hand.
The temps and humidity were on the rise and Monday’s forecast was no different than Sunday’s, where the heat index reached well over 100 degrees. In our pre-witness talk on Monday morning with Offutt Security people we told them that we wanted to do the closing ceremony and line crossing in as short a time as possible because of the heat and the age of the line crossers and their supporters. I told the officers that this year we were honoring our elders in the movement and wanted to give them a chance to speak their truths and put their bodies on the line with their convictions.
The actual witness and line crossing was simple and short. At 11:00 am we all gathered in the exit lane of the entrance drive, between Offutt’s property line and the public road. Offutt Security re-directed traffic to give us the lane. A song, “Go Be Justice” was sung by some thirty protesters now present at the vigil. And than the four line crossers stepped forward and each gave their statement.
Fr. Jack was first, and began his statement by emphasizing how he has always valued his consistent life ethic, his ‘womb-to-tomb’ approach to social justice. He shared that he had recently joined his Archbishop and fellow Omaha “Pro-Lifers” in a public prayer service at a new abortion clinic in Omaha . A few days latter, he visited and celebrated Mass with a number of death row inmates at the Nebraska State Prison. Now, today, here he was about to cross the line at Offutt AFB – yet again – to protest the anti-life nature of our nuclear weapons. Earlier in the week Jack called it the ‘Trifurcate” of a true pro-life activist.
Peg spoke next and her message was simple, “Let’s stop all these useless wars and bring our military people back home.” At 92 years of age, Peg possesses a perspective that few of us do. She has spent the better part of her adult life as a peacemaker protesting USA-led wars, all of them human failures with little gained and much lost in life and resources.
Charlie was next to speak. He had a prepared statement. He spoke of his visit to Nagasaki a month after the cataclysmic and incomprehensible aftermath its being A-bombed by the USA. He pleaded for the US military personnel, who continue to be sent to fight in these ill conceived wars. (A copy of his statement is attached.) The last to speak was Mark. At 53 yrs old, he was the youngest of the four by 28 years! His message was the simplest of them all. He was holding a processional crucifix. He looked to the crucifix and said, “Our Faith is in the crucified Lord and no one else. No one who believes in Jesus can ever justify the possession or use of any nuclear weapons. Wars are never an option for a follower of Jesus in solving human conflicts.”
When Mark was done, and all the speakers had made their statements, a simple Our Father was prayed by all as the four Catholic peacemakers then proceeded to cross the property line onto Offutt AFB, walked about ten steps onto the base, and were then greeted by Offutt Security personal, placed in vans and taken to the main guard house up the drive. All four were processed and released within the hour. We now await word from the Omaha Federal Attorney’s Offices regarding trespass charges and court dates.
For updates and follow through contact:
The Omaha Catholic Worker
Jerry Ebner, Mike Brennan
1104 N. 24th St.
Omaha, Nebraska USA 68102
402- 502- 5887