Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Coalition Marks Fifth Year Of Iraq War

Ojai Peace Coalition volunteer Nick Frangakis places the first of nearly 4,000 names of fallen U.S. soldiers on the pavement surrounding Libbey Park fountain. Photo by Rob Clement

By Sondra Murphy

Nick Frangakis kneels and begins meticulously writing names in block letters with blue chalk. Frangakis is a member of the Ojai Peace Coalition and a volunteer for the weekend event, “Not One More,” at Libbey Park in which 3,891 names of U.S. citizens killed in the Iraq war would be written in the fountain courtyard.
“The first lady killed,” says Frangakis reflectively as he comes to name No. 18 of the chronological list and begins lettering “Lori Ann Pieste.”
Evan Austin and Coleen Ashly of OPC organized “Not One More” as an effort to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq by honoring every soldier from the United States who has died in the conflict. OPC organized the lists of the dead and coordinated volunteers to write their names in chalk: blue for most and orange for those from Ventura County.
Dolores Bray, with Citizens for a Peaceful Resolution, started Friday’s efforts by numbering 80 courtyard squares to which the volunteers would be directed. Each square would list 60 names to accommodate all the soldiers and some civilians this nation has lost in the war effort. When she finished, Bray got blue chalk to begin the task of writing names.
Austin feels it is important to recognize the human loss and what it means to families. “They deserve the honor and respect of all communities all over this country,” he said.
“The Ojai Peace Coalition is founded and run by Evan and volunteers like me,” said Ashly from a spot under the tent and surrounded by lists of names, leaflets and blue ribbons to give each volunteer. Besides Austin and Ashly, Jessie Austin was getting volunteers started Friday while toting baby daughter, Noa. “She’s been a peace activist all her life,” Jessie Austin says of a smiling Noa.
The Peace Coalition worked more than two months on the event, which included renting the park area around the fountain and covering the required insurance. Banners and 2,000 pieces of dustless chalk were purchased and templates created to assure that all the names would fit within the squares. Many sponsors contributed to help pay for the memorial event.
In its “Not One More” leaflet, the Ojai Peace Coalition acknowledged the estimated 1 million Iraqis killed during the war, but recognized the logistical time and space constraints that would come with including each of those names.
Frank Peterson of Veterans for Peace brought six panels of pictures, names, ages and ranks of Americans who have lost their lives since the war began. “They range in age from 18 to 60,” said Peterson as he was setting up the panels. After pointing out 18-year-old Pfc. Ryan M. Jerabek, Peterson scanned the panels to find the 60-year-old: civilian Barbara Heald. “She was a nurse riding in a Humvee that was hit by a roadside bomb.” Of the remaining, most were in their 20s and 30s.
Austin appreciated Peterson’s contribution, since a low number of veterans were involved with the event. Members of the Boy Scout Crew 6505, James Taylor and Cody Stephens, took charge of the flag ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday.
“Our flag is considered a living symbol,” said Austin on Friday, “and in patriotic passages spanning many decades it has been imbued with the noblest characteristics we have language for. Red for valor and hardiness, often poeticized as the blood with which we have paid for our freedoms; white for innocence and purity; blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
“As we proceed this weekend, I will be wondering where the courage is in lying to start a war, how we claim purity while we practice torture and what kind of justice entails the murder of over 1 million Iraqis.” Austin hopes to soon convince the Ojai City Council to lower the city’s flags to half-staff in honor of those who have lost their lives in Iraq, as the state capitol has done.
The writing stopped mid-afternoon Friday and Saturday and notices were posted around the area in hopes that the chalk names would not be disturbed. “Every day when we left, we said a little prayer that there would be no vandalism,” said Ashly. By Sunday, the courtyard had taken on an ocean blue hue of names with vibrant orange highlights throughout.
Ashly said hundreds of volunteers participated over the course of the weekend. After chalking the names from their lists, people migrated over to Peterson’s wall to get details on the soldiers they had listed. The last name was written Sunday at 5:55 p.m. The event ended with a vigil around the fountain next to the flag at half-mast. As shadows began falling on the courtyard, a small group gathered with candles in a circle to comment upon the event and war.
Nordhoff student Brooke Eccles-Baker told the group that she and some friends had walked through Libbey Park Saturday evening and saw nearly 3,300 names. “They didn’t know what it was and when I explained they were soldiers who have died in Iraq, the shock on their faces was amazing,” said Eccles-Baker. “It feels good to think we did something for (the fallen soldiers) and honored them in some way.”
Ashly said the names did not include most civilians, soldiers stationed in Afghanistan or people who died from their wounds after returning to the U.S. Questions were raised about the accuracy of the list of the dead.
Grant Marcus commented about the many names of soldiers that included Jr., Sr., II and III after their names. “In those families, that history might not be continued,” he said, adding that it made him think about Iraqi families going through the same grief.
“I feel we’re closer to the Iraqi people than we are to the CEOs who are making money off this war,” said Peterson.
“I think it’s great that everyone here stands up for what they believe in,” said Taylor while waiting to attend to the flag.
“Doing this has been touching for me because I’ve enlisted in the Marines and seeing these names shows me what I might be looking forward to,” said Stephens. Tom Erickson, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran later moved to speak to the scout about his own experiences.
Austin ended the vigil by noting that seeing so many people on their knees over the course of the weekend, “In a humble posture, really registered to me the magnitude of those who have fallen in this war.” He reminded the group that every American name written during the event represented at least 250 Iraqis who have died.
Afterwards, the group began packing up and washing down the cement. Overhead, wisps of clouds projected an orange sunset into darkening blue as if the sky still held vigil with the sea of names.

1 comment:

Eddie Imbus said...

I think Evan Austin should run mayor. NAMASTE