On a September morning in 2001, while the rubble of the World Trade Center was still smoldering and there was still talk of possibly rescuing some of the people who were “missing” on site, Edward Reginald Epley stood on the lawn of the Benton County Courthouse to declare his opposition to President George W. Bush’s plan to invade Afghanistan if the Afghan government didn’t hand Osama bin Laden into U.S. Custody for questioning immediately.
Like many people in Corvallis, Epley thought invading a country just to take one criminal suspect and his suspected accomplices into custody seemed worse than rash. Who could say what sort of disaster might result? Look at what had resulted, after all from the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.
Afghanistan wasn’t called the Graveyard of Empires for nothing.
Epley could never have guessed that he was beginning an almost 20 year commitment to a peace vigil which continued through Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan, Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the dawn of a terrible new kind of warfare fought from the other side of the world by flying killer robots called drones. A commitment that continued through President Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize shortly after entering office, only to be followed by his continuing of the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and his support for Saudi Arabia’s escalating war in Syria, the overlapping wars coming to be known as the “Forever War” – a name coined decades ago by science fiction writer Joe Haldeman. A commitment through Donald Trump’s promise to end the Forever War, only to escalate it to levels never before seen, and into the beginnings of the Biden Administration.
And all along, a small group who opposed all of these wars stood vigil for an hour at the Courthouse every afternoon, Epley more often than not with them, handing out signs from the back of his 1961 Volkswagen bus, lighting candles, offering smiles and words of encouragement.
The peace vigil wasn’t the most glamourous thing Epley ever did – that would probably have been getting arrested at a protest alongside Carl Sagan. It wasn’t the most strenuous thing – not with all the volunteer work he did at homeless shelters or for Veterans for Peace. It arguably wasn’t even the most philanthropic thing he did as he was a blood donor his whole adult life as well as bringing others to the donation cots.
If the wars had ended more promptly, there were plenty of other things he could have done with his time, from building housing for the homeless to hanging out at the Oddfellows Hall talking to the world on his shortwave radio as “W7SL.”
Evidently, he thought the vigil was important.
When COVID-19 became a concern, the keepers of the vigil agreed among themselves that for the duration of the emergency just one member would stand at a time. Ed volunteered to take that duty, and he did, for months on end, until pancreatic cancer finally made it impossible for him to continue, and he had to be hospitalized for treatment.
On Jan. 26, the Forever War outlived the man who did the best he could to stare it down. Services were held in his honor at the Benton County Courthouse on Feb. 1. Epley’s service was honored all across the nation.
The vigil is still being kept.
Perhaps during President Biden’s tenure, the Forever War will finally blink.
By: John M. Burt