PHOENIXVILLE - West Whiteland resident Michael Berg, whose son Nicholas was killed in Iraq in May, spoke before an estimated audience of 60 people at the Phoenixville Democratic Committee meeting Wednesday evening.
Committee member Karen Johns welcomed Berg to a standing ovation at the Santa Anna Italian Club, 442 Dayton Street.
"In 1968, I didn't vote Democrat, and in 2000, I didn't vote for Al Gore. I voted for Ralph Nader instead," said Berg. "I'm ashamed to admit that I voted Republican once before, and I won't tell who it was."
Berg told the audience of when his activism first began.
"My activism got serious when (President George) Bush went after Iraq, and it became more active in 2003," he said. "On May 10, 2004, I got a phone call, the one we all dread as parents, that my dear son, Nick, who was a civilian contractor, had been murdered.
"I didn't know this war that was going on would affect me or my family. I never knew who this war will affect next. Anyone can be drawn into this war - my son, your son, my daughter, your daughter."
He then spoke of his son's travels across the world, and his character.
"You have to know my son to know why he was in Iraq," said Berg. "He'd been to Africa on three separate occasions, and he came home from there leaving a good portion of his body weight there, his tools and his heart.
"In December 2003, Nick went to Iraq to work with the Messiah. There was no business contract to secure. He was going there to help. When he came home in February 2004, he told us a story about when he was hanging out doing work on a radio tower. He saw a man fall from the tower but he didn't fall to the ground. The man was wearing a harness and was bleeding profusely. Nick rescued the man, and then went back up to finish the work on the tower."
As the audience sat and listened intently, Berg spoke of his son's tragic murder.
"Nick was on his way to his hotel in a taxi on March 24. He was stopped by the Iraqis, arrested, and the Iraqi Police took him to their station. Nick was then turned over to the FBI's Criminal Investigation Command. Lt. Col. William Kern said that Nick needed to be held for questioning. Kern called in the FBI and for 13 days, Nick was held without due process.
"Nick had arrangements for a flight out of Iraq but had missed it due to being detained. On March 30, the whole area was inflamed with violence. The FBI told Nick that he needed to go home, and that they had contacted us, but they lied to him.
"Nick went to Baghdad and found out that things were different. He called me and said he'd be leaving Iraq and that he wouldn't be stupid. On May 10, Nick was dead. One of the last things Nick said to us is that he vowed to come home and spend more time with us and his family.
"I received a phone call from John Kerry. It wasn't political, but personal. We received no phone calls from the White House. John Kerry will end this war and all of these atrocities."
Berg then made a challenge to the audience who may be on the political fence.
"I challenge anyone deep in your hearts to realize that Kerry isn't like Bush," said Berg. "Bush is like Saddam Hussein. Bush condones rape and murder, and does it with a wink of an eye. Bush says he does it in the name of economic policy.
"John Kerry decried rape, murder and genocide while he was in Vietnam. If you think John Kerry will end this war too soon, I say 'too soon for what?' It'll save our sons and daughters.
"I can't afford a third party vote. This time, there is only one issue, justice in foreign policy. Vote for John Kerry - I'm going to."
During a question and answer session, one audience member asked Berg about the difference in political views between him and his son.
"My son and I didn't see eye to eye on the war," said Berg. "He supported Bush, and he did live in Texas briefly. It must've been something in the water. Anyway, he was in Iraq supporting the policies of Bush.
"We disagreed on politics. He'd give me these looks, and he'd say, 'You know I don't agree with you, but I respect you in making your beliefs known.' We respected each other's rights as activists.
"I still think of him as a child, but he was a man. You don't change a man's mind when he thinks he's right."
Berg said Nick was interviewed by the FBI agents in 2002 regarding a possible link between himself and al-Qaida members.
"Nick, who'd studied at the University of Oklahoma for a period, was on a bus with a couple of Iraq students who were having problems with their e-mail accounts," said Berg. "These students asked Nick if they could borrow his password to access their e-mail, so Nick gave it to them. That's what college kids do. The FBI finally cleared Nick of any connection. They came to our hose and thanked Nick for his cooperation."
Berg said his son wasn't a violent person whatsoever.
"Nick quit the Boy Scouts at 13 because they wanted to take the troop to Dover Air Force Base to teach them how to fire a handgun," he said. "Nick wasn't into that and he quit them."
The audience was silent as Berg told them that his own brother-in-law is an Iraqi man.
"In 1965, my sister was in a fire at Penn State University," he said. "She met a young Iraqi man that evening, and eventually he became my brother-in-law. He was an Iraqi citizen, and the oldest of 13 children."
Just recently, Berg said he's filed a freedom of information act suit to get information he hasn't received yet from the FBI.
Following the speech, Berg posed for pictures with attendees, and said, "I feel exhilarated after giving one of these speeches. I just have to get it out of me. It feels good that I'm afforded the opportunity to speak like I can. It's very therapeutic for me. I thought everything went well tonight."