Grim milestone for Iraq war
Vigil held downtown for the 4,000 U.S. soldiers lost in the conflict
Standing in front of a makeshift wall covered with the names of Americans killed in the Iraq war, Karen Meredith told a small group of demonstrators that ever since the day her son was killed in the conflict, she feels the loss of life deep down.
"When another soldier dies, a part of me dies," said Meredith, a Mountain View resident and prominent member of Mountain View Voices for Peace. Her own son, Lt. Ken Ballard, died during a firefight in Iraq nearly four years ago.
On Monday evening, less than 24 hours after the toll of American soldiers killed in the Iraq war reached 4,000, approximately 50 local residents held a candlelight vigil on the corner of Castro Street and El Camino Real to remember them. Meredith and the other demonstrators read the names of the 426 Californians who have died since the war started in March 2002, including that of Ballard, who graduated from Mountain View High School in 1995.
With the casualties steadily mounting, the Mountain View group's members, and their counterparts in Los Altos and Sunnyvale, say they had been expecting the number to soon reach 4,000, and organized the vigil in one day. They came prepared with anti-war songs and candles for participants, although the event attracted fewer locals than usual.
The demonstrators walked up and down Castro and El Camino, chanting and holding signs reading "Peace instead," "End the war" and "Honk for no more war."
Drivers honked constantly in support during the almost two-hour vigil.
"It feels really good that people come out to honor the troops and show outrage that this war has lasted for five years," Meredith said. "The Iraq war has seemed to have fallen off the front page, and people need to be reminded that young men and women are dying in their name."
Ballard, who died in April 2004, is the only Mountain View resident to be killed in Iraq. There are 50 casualties from the Bay Area, said Meredith, who coordinates local vigils and peace protests, and also helped organize a memorial at the same location last week to mark the fifth anniversary of the war.
"We are fairly prosperous and most people have choices here," said Los Altos resident Leslie Keenan, whose son is returning to the United States this week after serving in the Air Force in both Afghanistan and Iraq. "Fewer of them [local people] end up in the military."
Even so, "California has had its fair share of casualties," Meredith said.
Meredith and the Rev. Archer Summers, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Palo Alto, spoke against the war before the names of the fallen Californians were read. Dozens of candles in red cups surrounded the makeshift display, and a photograph of Ballard stood in the middle of the plaza.
With a sign in hand, Stephanie Reader, president of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, noted that in addition to 4,000 American deaths, nearly 30,000 soldiers have severe physical injuries, and many more have suffered psychological trauma.
"Sometimes, we don't even begin to see the damage," she said. "There have been so many stresses on their marriages."
"We already have substantial numbers of homeless Iraq veterans on the street," said Paul George of the Peace and Justice group.
Many of the same activists gathered last week for vigils in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos on the fifth anniversary of the war. More than 100 people came to a Mountain View vigil on, Wednesday, March 19.
"Every time we do this, we say we hope someone shows up," said Ray Shuster of Los Altos Voices for Peace. "And they always do."
E-mail Casey Weiss at firstname.lastname@example.org