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Veterans Day tribute amid hillside protest crosses

on November 12, 2008


Nov. 12–The white crosses of Lafayette have been assaulting the consciousnesses of commuters along westbound Highway 24 for some years now. What started in 2003 with just 19 crosses protesting the Iraq war has grown into a controversial project bigger than anybody—supporters and detractors—would have liked. This evening, as the creators of the memorial led a Veterans Day vigil at the base of the hill, a billboard-sized sign above them displayed the latest tally of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan: 4,824.

Jeff TKTK addresses the crowd

Jeff Heaton, original creator of the memorial, begins the vigil as the sun sets

Roughly 50 people and at least a dozen reporters attended the vigil, standing under floodlights in a semicircle around a podium at the base of the hill. Mothers of fallen soldiers spoke, as did some of the memorial’s creators. Poems were read, drums were beat, and protest songs were sung, all over the din of the whizzing traffic on Deer Hill Road behind them.

Karen Merideth, a Mountain View resident and mother of Ken Merideth, an Army Lieutenant who was killed in Iraq in 2005, told the crowd, “We must not succumb to war fatigue. Apathy and indifference are not acceptable.”

There was cautious optimism in the air about the new President-Elect. Merideth called the election a “new dawn” for America. “Now we have a president-elect that seems to understand needs of veterans,” she said.


The crowd sings along to "We Shall Overcome"

But no one seemed ready to believe that Barack Obama was a sure bet to bring the war to a close. Afterward, Pleasanton resident Fred Norman, who read an original poem to the crowd as part of the evening’s program, said he was “so relieved” when Obama won the election. But he added that a lot of that relief comes simply from the fact that George W. Bush will no longer be in charge. “I’m a little leery of what he may be able to do in the Middle East,” Norman said. “Like anybody else, he’d like to bring [all the soldiers] back.  But he may not be able to.”“I’m a little leery of what he may be able to do in the Middle East,” Norman said. “Like anybody else, he’d like to bring [all the soldiers] back.  But he may not be able to.”

Bob Hanson, co-chair of the Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center—and one of the original creators of the memorial—said, “Like most of you, I was glad to see Obama elected. But the Peace movement can’t shut up and shut down,” Hanson told the crowd. “Obama’s initial appointments [to his cabinet] are not from the peace community,” referring to Obama’s recent pick of Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who supported Bush’s Iraq War Resolution in 2002, as his Chief of Staff.

“We need to make ourselves heard. If not, it’s business as usual [in Washington], as the US tries to run the world,” Hanson added. “The world will give us a chance to redeem ourselves. We can’t let Obama and Congress blow it.”

No one is quite sure what would happen to the memorial in the event of the war’s termination. While America’s moral and financial capacity for the Iraq war is yet to be seen, there’s surely a limit, in a purely pragmatic sense, of what the memorial can bear: the hill is running out of room.||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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