• Increase font size
  • Decrease font size
  • Default font size
Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Articles A GIFT FOR APT INDIGNATION: NICK CARDELL 1925 -- 2002

As long as the School of the Americas remains open, we are Judases by proxy. If I remain silent, if I do not speak out, my silence gives assent, and I become an accomplice once more.
-- the Reverend Doctor Nicholas C. Cardell, testimony, Columbus, GA federal court, 1998

That imposing cluster of titles and names is what the minister emeritus of May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society had me call him in our press releases about our impending federal trial in Georgia...and our impending incarceration in Allenwood Federal Prison Camp in Pennsylvania.

But to me and just about everyone else, he was Nick. Nick -- dapper and invariably decked out in cowboy boots and cowboy hat. And on the front of that hat, again invariably, a button demanding, "SHUT DOWN The School of the Americas."

Nick was born 77 years ago in Canada and raised by relatives in New York City. In World War II Nick dropped out of high school to enlist as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne. Unlike the politicos now beating the drums of war, Nick knew combat firsthand. Captured at the Battle of the Bulge, he spent three months as a prisoner of war -- before escaping.

In 1998, at the trial of the "SOA 25" (which included seven Central New Yorkers), Nick testified that while a POW he vowed never again to be involved in any way with killing innocent people. "As a prisoner of war in Germany, I often witnessed the suffering warfare inadvertantly inflicts on innocent people. On one occasion, after a long day's march, I stumbled on the body of a tiny girl no older than three. She had been killed by a misdirected hit from bombers I had earlier cheered on their way as they flew overhead....In some strange way I felt complicity in the death of that little girl, and it helped shape the rest of my life."

De-mobilized from Ft. Benning, Georgia, Nick went to Columbia University on the GI Bill. He fathered Scott and Leslie. And he became a minister (not a pastor; his congregations, he explained to me, were peers, not sheep.) With his crisp, craggy voice and immaculate diction, he excelled as an orator and raconteur. Nick was long active on the national level of Unitarian Universalism. Locally he chaired Planned Parenthood and served on the board of Peace Action. Up til the time of his death, he was active with the Hemlock Society of CNY.

In the eighties, on Nick's watch, May Memorial became a Sanctuary congregation -- helping to shelter "illegal" Salvadoran refugees here in Syracuse. In the mid-nineties that protracted civil disobedience by several Syracuse faith communities led Nick and Cathy Cardell to the SOA issue. They were among the founders of the CNY SOA Abolitionists.

Caravanning 2200 miles back and forth to Benning (now SOA's host), getting arrested for trespass and serving six months in prison, gave Nick and several of us Syracusans much in common. At Allenwood he and I shared the same cushy job (but at different times). It was Nick who got me that job and whose fund appeal letter raised much of my stipend for anti-SOA activism when I got out of prison. Among others, Nick's Unitarian friends here and across the country contributed generously.

I was taken aback once when, at an anti-SOA demo on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, Nick came up and, kind of out of the blue, kissed me. Cathy says Nick kissed lots of people. He was convivial. He had a large spirit...and a deep humanity.

Nick played poker, loved good conversation and good scotch. And smoking. I found it hard to watch him wheezing with emphysema and then reach for that inevitable cigarette. Given his fragile health, I thought he might die sooner than he did. I underestimated this tough old bird. A tough old bird with a twinkle in his eye. And a ready chuckle that could get him coughing and hacking.

In recent years, with so little on his bones, Nick couldn't sit still for long. Drawn out meetings were intolerable. When one of our Abolitionist meetings got soggy, Nick would get exasperated and volunteer to facilitate the next one. With Nick running it, you can be sure we zipped through the agenda.

This past year Nick didn't get to all our monthly meetings. He died in early October. Ann Tiffany drove him and Cathy to Crouse Irving Hospital the previous afternoon. In the emergency room, weak and at times disoriented, Nick was nonetheless in good humor. Cathy was at his side in death as she was in life. Their close friend Margaret Birdlebough was also there and told me Nick died peacefully.

Nick had a gift for apt indignation. At our trial he related how in 1993 he went to El Salvador with the Syracuse/La Estancia Sister Community. On that trip, "I saw the evidence of the massacre of an entire village, El Mozote. One image remains vivid in my mind -- the skeleton of a woman, legs akimbo, as in the act of giving birth, and between her legs, the skeleton of her infant." The perpetrators of that massacre -- the Salvadoran military's Atlacatl Battalion -- had recently trained at the School of the Americas.

Surely, one of the best ways to honor Nick's life would be to join all those going to Benning this November 15--17 for the annual SOA Watch vigil action. For information, check www.soaw.org. To link up with local folks making that trip, call the Abolitionist office, 478-4571.

Reverend Doctor Nick Cardell, Presente! ###

Sign up for action alerts and updates


Contact us

SOA Watch
733 Euclid Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

phone: 202-234-3440
email: info@soaw.org