(By Phinjo Gombu, originally published in The Toronto Star, September 8 2006)
Darrell Anderson, a U.S. Army deserter who fought in Iraq and sought refugee status in Toronto, has decided to return home and face a possible court-martial - against his mother's wishes.
Anita Anderson said her son, whose life has been pretty "messed up" by his Iraqi experience, believes he has to speak out against President George W. Bush in the United States, even if it means a trial or going to jail.
"He feels this is something he has to do," she told the Star yesterday. "I can't talk him out of it. I've tried."
Anderson said her 24-year-old son, who is married to a Canadian citizen and suffers from post-traumatic stress, is also returning because he feels it's the only way he can "heal himself up."
"Everyone in the U.S. says he's a coward," said Anderson.
The Lexington Herald Leader, Anderson's hometown Kentucky newspaper, reported that his decision to desert evoked outrage in letters to the editor and calls to radio stations.
He feels that only his going back will help him dispel the angry labels and let him get on with his life.
"That hurts him when people call him a coward," his mother said.
"He feels that everything he did was a moral stand and he has to follow it through, which means coming back and facing it, telling everybody what's happening there, what's happening to soldiers and the innocent Iraqi people."
He has told her he will refuse any offer to gain a discharge if it means signing a gag order, she said.
Anderson, 24, came to Canada in January of last year after serving seven months in Iraq and being wounded by a roadside bomb, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart.
An armoured vehicle specialist who joined up at 19, he fled when faced with a second deployment to Iraq.
In Canada, Anderson has spoken out passionately and publicly against the war, calling it illegal and saying he had witnessed the killing of innocent Iraqis and the unjustified death of too many young American soldiers.
His return home during the last weekend of September is expected to be a very public event, with peace activists and Vietnam War veterans meeting him at the border - possibly including well-known anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq.
Also present at the border will be his U.S. lawyer, Jim Fennerty, and a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union.
If he is not arrested immediately, Anderson plans to travel to Fort Knox in Kentucky to turn himself in. It is one of two army bases where deserters are kept while the army decides whether to court-martial or discharge a soldier.
Anderson was not available for comment yesterday because he was camping up north with wife, Gail Greer - a belated honeymoon before his return to the U.S. His mother said Greer, whom he met in Toronto, plans to accompany him back to the U.S.
Anita said she and other peace activists plan to hold a vigil outside the Fort Knox army base.
"They think Cindy Sheehan is a pain in the butt, but they have not met me yet," she said. "I will not leave (Fort Knox) until my son is freed."
Anderson is among at least 225 U.S. soldiers who have deserted to Canada and are living here either illegally, as students or as refugee claimants, said his former lawyer, Jeffry House.
House, himself a Vietnam-era U.S. deserter, now represents many in the current generation of war resisters and said he's spoken to at least 98 such people personally.
The most prominent cases involve Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey, whose application for refugee asylum was turned down by the Immigration and Refugee Board. A federal court judge upheld the decision and the case is now under appeal.
Anderson's mother said that although her son faced deportation from Canada, his marriage to a Canadian citizen might have allowed him to stay.
"He really appreciates all that Canadians have done," she said, adding he still hopes to live in Canada, but only after he faces the music back in the U.S.