With her neatly cropped silver hair and wide, finely lined smile, Frances Berrick looks as if she could be anyone’s grandmother. Slightly hard of hearing and dependent on a red-and-white walking cane to keep her balance, the 89-year-old is quick to joke she’s “a youngster.”
But when it comes to political activism, she instantly becomes serious.
“I did a lot of demonstrating in my younger years, especially during the civil rights movement,” Berrick said. “I demonstrated for the Vietnam War, and spent many weekends in Washington trying to get Roe versus Wade passed. We were successful there. We want to be successful here.”
Wearing pearl earrings and a sign around her neck reading, “Billions for health, not war,” Berrick and her husband were among dozens of senior citizens who rallied outside their Hallmark Battery Park retirement home yesterday, demanding that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan be brought home after nearly 10 years overseas.
“The main point we want to send is that we are very, very interested in seeing this war end,” Berrick said. “We want to see the money being spent in the Middle East be used for things other than killing.”
For those passing by on the street, the scene along North End Avenue was an unusual one, as senior citizens inched by in walkers and wheel chairs, their chants for peace barely audible above the noise of the city. For the elderly marchers, the rally was a necessary step in drawing attention to an issue they believe has lost the interest of younger generations.
“I’m a little surprised that young people aren’t demonstrating anymore,” Berrick said. “Why aren’t you out there? This affects you. It’s important.”
Joining up with other anti-war organizations, such as the groups Grandmothers Against the War and Granny Peace Brigade, demonstrators expressed frustration over delayed efforts to withdraw U.S. forces from the Middle East, citing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as a waste of valuable lives and money.
Murry Katz, an 89-year-old World War II veteran and vice president of Hallmark’s political action committee, said he has seen firsthand the toll of war. Once a combat engineer stationed in Europe for four years, Katz said he was in constant danger reconstructing bridges blown up by German forces. But, he said, the risk to today’s soldiers is not worth the fight.
“During World War II, we fought against an enemy,” Katz said. “This is not a just war. Young men are dying for no reason. What are we doing there?”
Resting on a bench out of the sun, 88-year-old Myron Berrick watched as his wife led demonstrators in a simple chant.
A World War II veteran whose rifle platoon was one of the first to invade Germany, he said he, too, understands the devastating side effects war has on a generation.
“I’ve been there myself,” he said. “Young people today are not as anti-war in the past, and I think it’s because they’re so immune to violence. The idea of war isn’t so new to them, but it solves nothing. Every veteran I know thinks that.”
While the protest lasted only an hour, demonstrators said they will continue to spread their message. Some plan to write letters to the White House, urging President Obama to commit to his plan to begin withdrawing troops by next year.
Joan Wile, the 79-year-old director of Grandmothers Against the War, said her group has been working for seven years to bring an end to the conflict overseas, holding weekly candlelight vigils at Rockefeller Center.
“We’re deeply concerned for our grand children’s future and for America’s future,” Wile said. “We know these wars are terrible. We’ve been through it. It’s a terrible waste of young people’s lives and resources.”