Pardon me if I stepped away for a few days. Had to step off the treadmill, get set in my mind things that needed to be done and things that have been done. This journey I am on begs for that kind of attention on occasion.
My sister & I stopped by Arlington West in Santa Barbara on our way home from a week in Los Angeles. If you've ever been to Santa Barbara, you know that this part of the world is God's country for it's beauty. On a beach at Stearns Wharf in Santa Barbara there is a group of fine people, the Veterans For Peace, who honor the son's & daughter's of this country who have been killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Every Sunday for more than 2 years now, these new friends of ours count the number of war dead and place a corresponding number of white crosses on the beach.
For some, Arlington West is an unwelcome reminder of the real world while escaping to this magical place. For some this beach is a destination, for others an accidental discovery. For me it is a destination- a place of love and devotion. The Veterans for Peace, Santa Barbara Chapter 54 started this project back in November 2003 with 304 crosses. My first visit was Veteran's Day, 2004 when there were 1177 crosses, and this week, there were 2108 white crosses. The human cost of the war, the empty lives....
I always look forward to catching up with my new friends, Michael, Rod, Carolyn, Tom, Nancy, Stephen and others. They have new stories to tell about some of the visitors, some of the family members who have come to honor their loved ones. They tell of buddies who come to pay last respects here at this because they continued fighting while their comrade returned home under cover of an American flag.
A name and the circumstances of the death are placed on each cross and they are presented alphabetically, so it is easy to find a particular name. Row by precision row, just as if this were the "real" Arlington cemetary. When a cross is visited, it is moved up front and is marked with a sticker. Nancy, one of the VFP volunteers has taken the job of resident florist. Local florists donate flowers and Nancy is always able to come up with gorgeous arrangements for each visited cross. Some families leave mementos, stuffed animals, photographs . I left one of Ken's dog tags and a photo on my first visit. There are now 14 rows of crosses or 30% who have been visited. 2 crosses moved into those rows with my visit, Sgt David W Johnson, son of Michelle & Steve DeFord, my friends from Oregon and PFC Darius Jennings, son of Elaine Johnson of South Carolina. I took a few minutes with David and Darius' cross and told them that their mom's missed them alot. I saw lots of other names that are way too familiar by now- Erik, Patrick, Sherwood, David, Nick, Travis, Mike, Adam, Jeramy, Kyle, Wes, Jonathan....and that list keeps getting longer.
A new addition to AW is a life size sand sculpture of 2 soldiers. At first, I thought it was 2 people sitting on the beach. I didn't catch the name of the sculptor, but I am grateful for this amazing piece of art.
So, if you are in the neighborhood, stop by Stearns Wharf on a Sunday and spend some time remembering those young men and women who are never coming home. There will be plenty of love and hugs waiting for you as you are overwhelmed with the magnitude of it all.