With a camping campaign in front of a barracks in Utrecht, veteran Mario van der Beek (60) tries to prove his point. According to Van der Beek, as an eighteen-year-old he should never have been sent to South Lebanon.
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On Tuesday he pitched his tent on the verge of Herculeslaan, opposite the Kromhout barracks. Two banners make it clear that he is taking action: ‘Defense is dumping its veterans. Defense camouflages its abuses’. He barely slept the first night. That was not due to the cold, says Van der Beek. “I have a double-walled tent.” He has hardly slept a wink because his phone is constantly ringing.
Various groups of veterans have indicated that they would like to visit. Van der Beek prevents that. He doesn’t want to jeopardize his camping campaign. As long as it does not cause any nuisance, the municipality of Utrecht allows it to remain. The resident of Zevenbergschen Hoek says he has been fighting against Defense for ten years, because the ministry refuses to acknowledge that it has made mistakes.
Broadcast ended in drama
Van der Beek was voluntarily deployed to South Lebanon as a conscript soldier in 1982. He was part of the Dutch battalion that carried out a peace mission under the flag of the United Nations (Unifil). According to Van der Beek, he should never have ended up in Lebanon as an eighteen-year-old. During his examination for military service it was determined that he was not suitable for training for a combat role due to his traumatic childhood. “I certainly should not have been sent to the front.”
The broadcast turned out to be a drama, says Van der Beek. He and a number of buddies came under fire for six hours. During his time in Lebanon his father died. He didn’t get much time to mourn. “I was allowed to return to the Netherlands briefly for the funeral, but had to return immediately afterwards. “My father was barely underground.”
Blue Unifil beret
Van der Beek – who still wears his blue Unifil beret with pride – says he suffers from the psychological condition PTSD due to the traumatic experiences in Lebanon and the death of his father. In addition to psychological problems, he suffered a severe form of tinnitus from the hours-long gunfight he experienced. “I suffer from a constant ringing in my ear, which has caused me to hear the war every day for forty years.”
According to him, Defense must admit that they made a mistake by sending him out at the time. He wants an apology and compensation. It is not without reason that he is taking action right in front of the Kromthout barracks in Utrecht. “The barracks are where the top brass and legal staff of the army are.”
Veteran Mario van der Beek fights for rehabilitation with a camping campaign. Photo: Ruud Voest
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense regrets that Van der Beek is sleeping in a tent in the cold. “Every veteran deserves recognition, appreciation and aftercare.” Defense does not want to go into the matter in more detail for privacy reasons, but emphasizes that it wants to continue discussions with the camping veteran.
Gingerbread nuts and orange juice
Van der Beek was allowed to tell his story together with his lawyer at the Kromhout barracks on Wednesday morning. During the interview, he was asked to end his action, the veteran said. He refused that. “I didn’t come here with all my stuff and leave one day later. I won’t leave until I get my rehabilitation.”
It becomes clear that the veteran has struck a chord with his action when he returns to his campsite after the conversation at the barracks. The black garden chair next to his tent is full of goodies, from gingerbread nuts to croissants and from a chocolate letter to a bottle of orange juice. The support is visibly good for him. “I have no idea who all that comes from, but I think it’s beautiful.”