by Gainesville Veterans for Peace
When the Gainesville chapter of Veterans for Peace first came up with the idea of Memorial Mile eight years ago, we had no idea that, in 2013, we’d still be displaying the tombstones of American service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. We thought the wars would be over, that the U.S. would be disengaged from these unjust occupations.
But instead, the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq just passed (with relatively little fanfare), and we’re going on 12 years in Afghanistan. Instead, the state of warfare is in flux, and the U.S. is waging even more secretive attacks through drone strikes, killing an unknown number of innocent civilians.
This is why we will erect the Memorial Mile display by sunrise on Sat., May 25, along the Solar System Walk. The display will stay up through sunset on Memorial Day, May 27.
Veterans for Peace encourage the public to stop by and walk the stunning mile at any time, believing this is the best way to take in the reality of these wars. Each tombstone representing individual Americans also represents the friends and family of the deceased who were and still are affected by these wars.
Memorial Day began as a simple, somber ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War, then called Decoration Day. Since that time, Memorial Day has continued to honor U.S. service members who have died in all wars; by the early 20th century, this day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they served in the military or not—a far cry from the national “holiday” of barbecues, brewskies and beaches that many Americans celebrate today.
Memorial Mile will be made up of more than 6,660 model tombstones lining the north and south sides of NW 34th Street just east of 8th Avenue near the Solar System Walk. Each tombstone remembers an American service member who died in Iraq or Afghanistan, and includes the service member’s name, date of death, age, branch of service, rank and hometown. They will be arranged by theater and date of death. Tombstones with American flags on the top represent service members with local ties whose tombstones have been visited by friends and family.
Veterans for Peace will have available, on site at an information table, a book that directs visitors to specific tombstones. Every year, people come to the Memorial Mile to place flowers and other expressions of love at the tombstones of their loved ones and friends.
This is the eighth year of Memorial Mile and the fifth year the display has crossed over to the south side of the street. More than 210 tombstones were added since Memorial Day last year.
Veterans for Peace believes that these losses and the corresponding wars cannot be adequately understood with facts and figures alone. The visual impact of the tombstones conveys the reality of these numbers.
This year’s event will also feature the Peace Ribbon from Code Pink. This is an ongoing grassroots project in which individuals and groups make panels honoring the victims of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by creating a cloth memorial to fallen service members and Afghan and Iraqi civilians. The Peace Ribbon contains 225 panels. To find out more about the Peace Ribbon, go to www.codepink4peace.org/section.php?id=17.
Parking will be available at nearby West Side Park.
For more information, visit vfpgainesville.org.