Michael E. Kerr

Creating this website

I am the creator of this website. It has been a lot of work, but very, very enjoyable. It has given me the opportunity to know so many more people who participated in so many ways. It was an experiment in perseverance, hope and courage, all for a better sane world free of war and violence. We all did our part! My hopes for the website is that people will now take the time to document stories of their experiences with Nuremberg Actions. My only regret is that this website was not done much earlier, as so many of our fellow activists, with their own unique stories, have left us! MEK comment

The beginning for me

When I heard about the attack on Brian the day before, I was working with a group planning a major rally concerning Central America for later in September 1987 in San Jose. I lived in Sunnyvale and was working for a print shop in Santa Clara.

Our group formed a large car caravan and we all drove down to the large Saturday rally next to the Concord Naval Weapons Station. I was amazed at the number of people. I took a number of photos of the rally while listening to the speakers. (back in those days we had to buy film and then turn them in to be developed for pictures )

Eventually, I wandered over to the part of the tracks where Brian had been attacked. I then noticed a lot of commotion and a swarm of people down the tracks toward the front of the CNWS base. The base was actually closed off with rows of barb wire fencing, numerous soldiers and police. When I squeezed into the tightly packed group, I discovered that people were actually tearing up the tracks.

I watched for awhile until a thought raced into my mind. When the Kent State shootings happened, students at my school, Northwestern University, had torn down the fancy fencing along the University and had piled them onto a major commute road into Chicago that went past the University. Along with some bon fires and the fencing the road remained closed for a number of days in protest and anger. As an Engineering student, I just happened to be living and working away from the University as a student Engineer at International Harvester Company. So I missed all of that and a quarter session of school that ran on a pass/fail system. I firmly believed in a pass/fail grading system even then.

I had missed participation in protesting Kent State. I wasn’t going to let this pass by me, so I was eventually able to grab the special crowbar and I was able to pull up one of the rail spikes which I still have. I remember someone pleading for everyone to stop, who was being totally ignored. Later, I found out it was probably Brian’s wife at the time, Holly Rauen. Sorry!

I then joined in with others to neatly pile the many wooden rail ties onto the entrance road into the CNWS. While all this was happening many people had gradually left the action. The military was taking photos and video of all of us, but I was willing to make a stand.

The next day I went to my United Methodist Church in Sunnyvale. I was well liked by others as I had been an active member on our social concerns committee. Also, the church members had been very supportive of my wife during her illness and legal battle for justice concerning a devastating sexual harassment and rape case. Un Chong had died almost two years earlier.

While in the greeting-gathering after services, a sweet older woman friend happened to be standing back to back with me. I heard her say something negative about people tearing up the tracks. I turned to her and waved my rail spike. Suddenly, I felt she and others were less critical and open minded about what had happened.

After church services, I went back to the CNWS. I found only a few people there. Several including David Duncombe were determined to do the fast that Brian could no longer do! I sensed a great deal of animosity by military personnel nearby. It didn’t seem like there was any support or protection for those few at the tracks. I really wasn’t aware of the existence of the Nuremberg Actions organization at that moment.

I was so concerned about everyone’s safety at the CNWS in this highly charged atmosphere, that I spoke to my minister the next day. I asked if he could contact the base Chaplain to help prevent any additional conflict. He agreed to do so and later he informed me that he had indeed talked to the Chaplain.

I was working all week, but when Saturday came, I took off to the CNWS once again! When I arrived, I was stunned to see three military tents had been put up for us protestors. I think the tents were for sleeping, cooking and Medical activities. I asked several of the activists present about what had happened. No one knew for sure. The military just come out and set up the tents. Do you think, I might have had something to do with this event?

On Being a regular Track person

After the big rally on September 5, 1987, I began to religiously come out to the Tracks most every weekend from Saturday until evening on Sunday. Then I even started coming out on Friday evenings through Sunday night or sometimes leaving early Monday morning to work in a print shop in Santa Clara. This continued through the winter into March. Then I heard Scott Rutherford was looking for someone to manage the Peace House. By then I knew all the 24/7 regulars, so I said why not and volunteered for the task. No pay and all the food I could muster up for myself and everyone else. No personal bed, but always a spot to sit or lie on the tracks. I then joined the Spokes Council as the Peace House Manager.

The Intentional Community

Partially burned out after a month trying to manage the Peace House while trying to get avowed “socialists” to live like ones in practice, I took a week get away trip with Robby Labowitz to Seattle for the start up ceremony of the Veterans for Peace caravan to Central Anerica. Even got a picture of Robby next to Jesse Jackson. Jackson was running for President then. Don’t know how Robby got past Secret Service!

When I returned starting in late March or early April?, apparently Diane Poole and Mark Coplan had realized what was happening to me. so they created a three-person intentional community at the tracks to guarantee food and a 24/7 presence at the Tracks.  In my absence I was included to be the third person to my delight and relief.

It was a rotating system where one-person prepared breakfast at the Peace House & delivered it to the Track community.  They then took the dirty dishes back to Peace House to clean.  That person would then made sure the Peace House was occupied & cleaned.  Later they would prepare dinner, often comprising of bread, juice and a large pot of hot vegetarian soup.  After they delivered dinner to the tracks which often fed 10-20 people.  That person would then guarantee that they would occupy the vigil site at the tracks over night and until dinner time the next day.   Meanwhile another person took dinner dishes back to Peace House to clean.  They would spend the night at Peace House and prepare breakfast for the next morning.  Don’t dare forgot coffee!  With this rotation system, each of us had a free day of responsibility every 3 days. 

We found it hard to get anyone else to take on this responsibility.   The system started to breakdown when Mark moved to Nicaragua, then Diane went to jail and eventually I went on the Caravan to El Salvador in late March 1989. 

More later on my full time period with Nuremberg Actions

I will eventually fill this page with many stories that I will eventually remember about the next year at the tracks with Nuremberg Actions before I left on a Caravan to El Salvador in mid March 1989. Hal Carlstad also went on this caravan in his truck. I was to spend some enjoyable times with Hal during the next two months in Central America and El Salvador.

Shock and Lost

I returned from El Salvador in June 1989 prior to the 2nd Anniversary of Nuremberg Actions on June 10th. I had been on buses for 4 days coming from San Salvador. I was partially feeling down and tired. A blossoming relationship with a young Salvadorian women seemed to have gone bad just before I had left. She was one of the daughters of the mother that was hosting several of us caravanners in her small tin roof mud walled hut on the side of the highway. They had been refugees from the earthquake a few years earlier, who had built some makeshift housing on the side of a major highway into San Salvador.

Now when I arrived at the Peace House, I found it empty and Scott Rutherford painting the inside. Scott had already put the house up for sale. Meanwhile most everyone I knew was no longer at the vigil site and the Spokes Council had been disbanded. I still don’t know what happened in my absence, but hopefully someone’s story will explain. I felt lost and hopeless to discover all this!

More Shock and Sadness

As bad as this was, I was to receive a third shock to my spirit. I had been the last of the Americans who had gone to El Salvador to remain with our host community. The newly elected death squad government was to take power on June 1st. I was worried about the community which had so bravely taken in American activists, so I waited until this transfer of power had happened. I thought, very wrongly, that as the official government these death squad people might be more restrained by my own government than they had been freelancing.

But first, before I left back to the U.S., I took a week trip to visit Mark and his wife, Anna at the time living in Managua, Nicaragua. I was also able to find (not easy) the gravesite of Ben Linder in Matagalpa  (nothing special making it stand out among 100s of others). Sent a picture and note that I had visited the site to Ben’s parents. Hope they found some comfort that Bin was still remember by someone who cared enough to find his gravesite. A large framed poster of Ben Linder on his unicycle, signed by his brother, hangs on the living room wall at the Peace House. It meant a great deal to me to find Ben’s grave as someone who doesn’t speak much Spanish, was traveling on his own in a country where you might think people would despise Americans. I was able to give Ben Linder his due respects from me!

Back in San Salvador, I discovered that my sleeping bag and a few other things had been given to the coordinator of the community group hosting us, Marta “Tita” Gusman, a sweet 24 year old mother of two. I visited with her and found out that she had given my sleeping bag to some FMLM guerillas. I gave her my approval, blessing and thanks for hosting our group. I was to leave El Salvador the following day.

Now back in the states, I was told that Marta had been disappeared while I was still on a bus in Central America. Later I learned about a woman from our group who had remained in El Salvador to work with Co-Madres. One day she and several Salvadorian women had been arrested by the Treasury Police. There they were tortured. The American woman was even tortured. She had found herself totally naked while bound to a chair and blind folded. On one occasion, she became aware that an American man was now in the room with her captors. Shortly afterwards she was released. During her captivity and torture, the other women were tortured even more! A common question kept being asked of them was about their association with a Tita Gusman. So we now know, that Tita was also abducted by the Treasury Police, tortured and killed never to be found. That may explained why so many from the community group that had hosted us, had now been captured and taken to prison or were in hiding after I had left El Salvador. I was to later travel to Guatemala and during a harrowing two weeks help smuggle into the U.S. several El Salvadorians including my future wife to be.

Some Good News Finally

Thanks to Scott, he let me crash at the Peace House along with himself and Steve Frein.

Within a few days, I made contact with Ellen Danchik, Nuremberg Actions Legal Coordinator. Before I had left for El Salvador, I had made out a short will. I had a feeling I might not return safely as I didn’t see myself as watching someone do harm to another without intervening. At the time I actually had nothing of value besides boxes of personal papers and my 1981 Subaru. I left the Subaru with Jennifer Viereck for safe keeping. However, I still had the possibility of receiving some possible lawsuit money (long story) associated with my wife Un Chong’s Sexual Harassment case! So, in my will I gave any and all to Ellen and told her that I knew she would do something good with the money.

Now I was back home. Ellen then told me that I had received $50K from the lawyers trust fund and $30K from a malpractice lawsuit against the lawyer who had stolen the settlement $ from my wife’s case. Such exciting news, yet Ellen had kept this knowledge secretly to herself until I was back. A special thanks to Ellen Danchik.

Acquiring the Peace House

Before long, I realized that the Peace House was my dream house and that I wanted a to buy the house from Scott. I had the money for a significant down payment, but I didn’t have a job and didn’t want one yet! Scott’s real estate agent said “no problem” , then later that I needed a job. I asked how much do I need to make? At least $500/month. So I got a Contra Costa Times Paper route. Then I was told, No, that won’t do! Then they refused my request to purchase the house.

This went on for weeks, finally Scott and I agreed to bypass the system! We needed a lawyer and discovered that Brian Willson’s lawyer was willing to write up a satisfactory agreement to protect both our interests. However, our agreement would still depend on trust and honesty between us. What we did would be risky for most people.

The agreement would give me some protection as I would be paying Scott the difference between what his asking price and what he still owed, yet the title would still remain under Scott’;s name for awhile. The mortgage would also remain under Scott’s name with me assuming the payments. I had already been doing this as House Manager. Scott had originally purchased the house with help from two private loans from two activists, Bob Spitzer and Maylie Scott. Both agreed for me to take over the loans, while Scott would still remain ultimately liable under their signed agreements tied to a lien on the house. I did finally pay all their principle back , but when I had financial difficulties while I was struggling to support my new Salvadorian family and relatives, both Maylie and Bob forgave any interest due. I thank them both for their generosity and special help in buying the Peace House both for me and earlier Scott.

On December 2, 1989, I had a Peace house dedication celebration in honor of my first wife, Un Chong Kerr and all victims of sexual harassments; Marta “Tita” Guzman and the other 70,000+ victims of USA genocide in El Salvador; and all human beings who have suffered from injustices, persecutions, wars of aggression and other crimes against humanity in violation of International Laws as stated in the Geneva Convention, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Nuremberg Principles.

While the Peace House lost value during the first five years I owned it, its value did increase. Eventually after about 15 years, I discussed with Scott about finally getting me on title along with Scott and obtaining a home equity loan. We would both have to sign the new equity loan, but I would have control over its use. Scott was willing to do this as Scott would get $15K to help clear up some of his personal debts. Scott would never have to pay this loan back, but he would make payments on a$15K whole life insurance policy with me as beneficiary. Finally, in 2016 I was able to refinance the house and also remove Scott from the title and any liability. Scott’s whole life insurance policy had by this time considerable cash value. We agreed to have the money split between Scott, Bob Spitzer and Maylie’s daughters.

Over the years, I have made many improvements to the house and property. I helped financially pay for the house by sharing it with many different roommates during this time. My 3 step kids have grown and I have 3 grandkids. While I separated and later divorced from my Salvadorian wife Feliicta, we remain good friends.

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