My last vacation post, I promise.
While looking for my friend's post-wedding brunch party in Santa Barbara, California on Sunday, I drove past Arlington West, a memorial for American soldiers killed in Iraq. I stopped and spent some time walking around the rows of crosses, placed meticulously in neat rows in the sand, each one bearing the name of a fallen soldier. The sun was shining, as it almost always does in Santa Barbara. "Taps" played quietly from a cd player nearby.
Because I'm still a reporter, even when I go on vacation, I interviewed Carolyn Rice, one of the memorial's volunteer organizers, and Secretary of the Santa Barbara chapter of Veterans for Peace. The volunteers have been setting up these crosses at Stearns Wharf each Sunday since November 3, 2003. Rice calls the display "a visual image of the cost of war."
She told me that, in the beginning, they envisioned this as an anti-war project, but they soon decided to abandon their political message and let the growing field of crosses speak for itself. Nobody makes speeches here, or passes out anti-war pamphlets. "When you meeet a parent of a kid who died and who is not against the war," explained Rice, "they don't deserve to have that shoved in their face."
And the volunteers do meet veterans, and military families, and anti-war activists, and tourists. The afternoon I was there, I watched a group of scruffy teens sit in front of one cross. I saw a woman with three kids walking through the rows. I saw a heavy-set bearded man sitting in a lotus position at one end of the display. I didn't see anyone protesting the memorial, or making a scene. Rice said she's seen some of that, though, and she's seen families and active duty service members walk through to find crosses.
I overheard a lot of people who started discussing the war because they saw the crosses. Ultimately, that's the point. I didn't spend enough time talking to the organizers to hear them say this, but I expect their goal is to get people talking. It's so easy to forget we're at war, especially when so many of us (like me) don't have relatives or close friends serving in it.
So maybe take a minute to learn more about some of the Vermont soldiers who were killed over the past two years. I couldn't remember all of their names, but I did find three crosses, for Sgt. Kevin Sheehan , Sgt. Jesse Strong and Cpl. Mark Evnin . Cpl. Evnin was Jewish — I remembered because he was a friend of friends — but there's no mention of that on his cross. I know the organizers intend to show uniformity, but perhaps if you contact them , they'll make amends. I would have suggested it to them at the time, but I wasn't positive about his religion until I double-checked his obituary.