2011 will be the fifth year of the Veterans for Peace Memorial Day project known as Memorial Mile. The display consists of tombstones bearing the name, date of death, age, rank and hometown of the American service men and women who have died due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The display is set up in Gainesville along NW 8th Avenue. It runs east from 34th Street for one mile, then crosses to the north side of the road and runs west back toward 34th Street. When we started this project in 2007, we did not think that we would still be involved in these wars today. In 2009, we ran out of room on the south side of the road and that is why we crossed to the north side and have started west. At the current rate of American deaths, in 2012 we will run out of room.
The whole display has 3 parts. The main part is the tombstones, which are displayed by theater of war and date of death. We have books at both ends of the display that allow us to help people find the tombstones they are looking for.
The second part of the display is a set of panels that show the cost of these two wars in human lives, dollar amounts, and lost opportunities.
The third part of the display is the Peace Ribbon, which is a project of Code Pink. It honors the victims of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by creating a cloth memorial panel to individual fallen soldiers and Afghani and Iraqi civilians. The Peace Ribbon is an ongoing grassroots project in which individuals and groups make the panels. There are over 225 panels. To find out more about the Peace Ribbon go to http://www.codepink4peace.org/section.php?id=17.
In 2007, the display consisted of 3,843 tombstones representing the 386 Americans who died in Afghanistan and the 3,457 who died in Iraq. In 2008, there were 4,577 tombstones, 500 from Afghanistan and 4,077 from Iraq. In 2009, there were 4,979 tombstones, 685 from Afghanistan and 4294 from Iraq. In 2010, there were 5,479 tombstones, 1,081 from Afghanistan and 4398 from Iraq. In 2011, the number is still rising.
When you visit our display, you will see that some of the tombstones have flags on them. We started marking local tombstones with flags so they would be easier to find. We now also put flags on all tombstones that have been visited. Currently, more than 54 tombstones are marked by flags.
Each year, the community is brought to focus on the latest local, young person who has died in Afghanistan or Iraq. Last year, the focus was on Philip P. Clark who died in Afghanistan on May 18, 2010 at the age of 19. The press talked about how Philip had always wanted to be a Marine. They talked about how he even had a Marine uniform when he was 10 years old. When I looked at the total display last year, I was struck by the fact that the first young, local person to die was Jeffery M. Wershow who died July 6, 2003 in Iraq at the age of 22, when Philip P. Clark was 12 years old. I am sure that when Philip was running around aspiring to be a Marine, his family never thought he would be joining Jeffery M. Wershow as a casualty of these wars. Who will be next?
By Scott Camil, Gainevsille Vets for Peace