Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fallen soldiers honored at Arlington West


On the eve of Memorial Day, with a stiff breeze cutting across West Beach, several hundred people gathered as volunteers lit candles around thousands of white crosses for an overnight vigil at Arlington West.
Started more than four years ago, the once-random scattering of 347 wooden crosses has grown into more than 3,000 neatly lined rows, memorializing the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq.
That figure stood at 4,081 on Sunday, along with 29,978 wounded, according to

And on the fifth Memorial Day weekend since the war began, local leaders took the opportunity to call for an end to military operations in Iraq.
“Next year, on Memorial Day I hope we don’t have to be here,” Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum said.
As the sunlight faded from the cloud-streaked sky, Mayor Blum and others, including many volunteers with Veterans for Peace, began lighting small candles and placing them under plastic shields, the flickering lights ultimately forming a border around the display.
Steve Sherrill, a local carpenter and founder of Arlington West, said the routine of putting up and taking down the display each Sunday has stretched far longer than he ever imagined.
But until American soldiers leave Iraq for good, he will remain with his feet in the sand every Sunday, planting cross after cross to serve as a visual reminder of the cost of war.
“We have no plans to leave and to shut this memorial down until our brave young men and women come home to their families where they belong,” Sherrill said.
Before kneeling to help light a long row of candles, former State Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson also urged an end to the war in Iraq.
“These are human beings who have lost their lives for a war that many of us knew before it started was fruitless, reckless and irresponsible,” she said. “…The way to resolve differences is not at the barrel of a gun.”
Instead, she called on the nation’s leaders to instill a sense of peace, to change the United States into a nation that will never again start a preemptive war.
“Today, we especially honor our warriors for their ultimate sacrifice,” she said. “…We must commit to them and honor them by restoring that legacy for our future generations.”
Many of those who stood watching along Stearns Wharf had been passing by during an evening walk or on their way to dinner when they noticed the crosses stretching out across the beach.
Ken Krombeen, who recently moved back to Santa Barbara after leaving in the 90s, summed up his thoughts upon seeing the memorial for the first time with one word.
“Overwhelming,” he said.
It’s easy to hear a figure on the news citing the death toll in Iraq and brush it off, he said, but seeing thousands of crosses lined up in the sand hits closer to home.
“You see something like this and it starts ringing a bell,” he said.
Beth Wilkin had a similar reaction.
“I just felt really sad,” she said. “It’s just kind of easy to put it out of your head that we’ve been at war for so many years.”
Wilkin, visiting from Chicago, said she came across Arlington West by accident after meeting a friend on Stearns Wharf.
“The timing is good to see something like this,” she said, explaining that she had no plans for Memorial Day other than enjoying a barbecue with friends.
Before the sun dipped below the horizon, dozens of visitors paused to read signs along the edge of the display citing significant events in the course of the war, such as the fall of Baghdad or the capture of Saddam Hussein — their position corresponding to the death toll at that point in time.
Others stopped along Stearns Wharf to snap photos of the memorial or talk with a volunteer from Veterans for Peace.
Many of those volunteers will remain with the display throughout the night, ensuring nothing happens to the crosses or signs.
“We’re having two-hour shifts, just like the Army,” said Bob Potter, vice president of the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. “…It’s been something of a tradition.”
Potter, who served in the Army Reserves in the late 50s and early 60s, got involved with Arlington West early in its existence, coming out nearly every Sunday since to help organize the crosses and speak with passing visitors.
“I never imagined when we started this that it would go on for this length of time,” he said.
Before becoming involved in the memorial, Potter said he never did much to celebrate Memorial Day, short of perhaps reading an article in the newspaper. Now that he spends his Sundays volunteering at Arlington West, his perspective has changed.
“I see the virtue in remembering,” he said, adding, “When you have a war that people are dying in, it changes the meaning. There’s more immediacy.”
And since the memorial’s inception more than four years ago, Potter has seen a dramatic shift in public opinion about Arlington West. At first, he would encounter many people who criticized the intentions of the display and its volunteers.
“Now if people have their criticisms, they are silent,” he said.
With Potter and many others standing guard over the memorial, the crosses will remain up until this afternoon in honor of Memorial Day. Visitors are invited to walk through the display, to take photos and to reflect on those lost in battle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have seen many cars driving around in Santa Barbara that have the yellow magnetic 'ribbon' which says "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS"
The blue 'ribbon' on my car states "BRING HOME OUR TROOPS" I'm pretty sure you can find it on a search engine like Google