A convoy of 50 trucks from across the country, many of them driven by veterans of the Vietnam war and World War II, sets out from Austin this morning for an invasion of Nicaragua. But the weapons of this warfare are food, clothing, and household supplies. The ``Veterans Peace Convoy'' is scheduled to reach Nicaragua June 17 with what convoy organizers call ``true humanitarian aid'' to distribute to the people of Nicaragua.
A larger purpose, participants say, is to express opposition to United States policies in Nicaragua and Central America in general.
Robert Livesey, a Vietnam veteran from Boston, dreamed up the convoy last November while on a tour of Nicaragua with 18 other veterans. Someone mentioned the possibility of a US invasion, and Mr. Livesey says, ``I decided maybe we should try our own style of invasion.''
In six months a coalition of hundreds of peace, civil rights, and religious groups banded together to assist veterans' peace organizations in planning the convoy. Four separate convoys were organized across the country, all of which converged in Austin over the weekend.
With more than 100 tons of donated food, clothing, and other supplies - enough to fill the 50 trucks, plus an overflow that will be sent down in cargo containers - Livesey says the convoy ``surpassed my own expectations.''
At a rally Sunday on the steps of the Texas capitol, Livesey and other participants - some of them '60s protesters - discussed their reasons for supporting the project.
``For me, there are similarities with Vietnam,'' Livesey said. ``When we left Vietnam, nobody looked back, nobody thought about those people who had suffered. ... It's time we paid reparations for the damage done by the war we sponsored [in Nicaragua], but our government sure isn't going to do it.''
Ray Pozzi, a veteran of World War II and Korea who resides in San Francisco, says the idea of ``helping the children'' is what convinced him to participate in the convoy. Of Nicaragua's Sandinista regime, Mr. Pozzi says he has nothing against a government he considers to have been freely elected by the people.
``Anyway,'' he adds, ``I may hate the ayatollah, but if there was a similar effort to help feed the poor kids in Iran, I'd join that, too.''
Also attending Sunday's rally was Philip Roettinger, a retired Marine Corps colonel and veteran of 12 years with the Central Intelligence Agency, much of it in Central America.
Mr. Roettinger, president of the Association for Responsible Dissent, which opposes all covert activity by the CIA, says he is tired of the ``lies and more lies'' that the US government is telling about Nicaragua.
But convoy organizers say that even many veterans who support US policy on Nicaragua have shown sympathy for the convoy's aim.
``We ran into a VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] group in Oklahoma City that said they couldn't support what we're doing,'' notes convoy coordinator Tom Hansen. ``But when the discussion was over, several of them came up to us individually, handed us money, and said, `This is for the kids.'''