While some people barbecued, others said little prayers among the markers. While some shopped for cars, others pondered the “what would have been” had a life not ended. While some played volleyball, others remembered the fallen.
The sixth annual Arlington Northwest Memorial display lined the waterfront with more than 2,000 white board grave markers at Marine Park along Ruston Way. While the sea of white “headstone” markers created a visual representation of the cost of war, the reality is that the actual numbers of casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq have been much higher. The park is too small to display all the markers.
The collection of symbolic grave markers was hosted by Veterans for Peace Chapter 134 of Tacoma, with the help of other peace groups from around Puget Sound. The memorial this year also included recognition of civilian deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a wall of names of the returning American soldiers who committed suicide following their deployment.
“They are all part of the costs of war, some willing, some not-so-willing,” said Tacoma Veterans for Peace President Ray Nacanaynay.
Arlington Northwest is a traveling memorial dedicated to the men and women who have died in Iraq since March 2003. It was first erected in June 2004 by members of Evergreen Peace and Justice Community and Veterans for Peace, Chapter 92. Notebooks listing information about each fallen soldier are on a table, along with cards and permanent markers. Visitors may choose a name from one of the books, write it on a card along with the soldier’s age and hometown, and then place this card on an empty marker. These cards are later laminated and glued on a marker, becoming a permanent part of the display. One by one, each cross or tombstone gets a name added to it.
The display has been erected at dozens of parks, college campuses and community gathering spots, picking up new names with each stop. Some people have said the display is a statement against the “war on terror,” while others see it as a tribute to those who paid the ultimate price. Some disagree with memorializing civilians alongside soldiers, while others say it shows the true cost of war. Others say the markers speak for themselves.
“We cannot control how we are perceived,” Nacanaynay said. “My hope is that we find common ground with all who experience this event and continue to dialogue and find a nonviolent solution and as expressed in the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ let us be worthy of their sacrifices.”