Homegrown memorials used as tributes, antiwar protests
War isn't over over there, but memorials are already honoring lives lost in Iraq.
When Ray Cottrell, Jr. put up the first three white crosses to mark the first casualties of the Iraq war, he did not know what the future would hold for US troops overseas.Skip to next paragraph
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But the scene outside his Ford dealership in this rural Kentucky town has changed dramatically: Today, 801 crosses and flags dominate the small grassy strip in front of new F-150s and Suburbans.
This Normandyesque memorial has become a somber ritual in the lives of Mr. Cottrell's employees, and they dedicate their time to grooming it as though it were a family cemetery plot. "It really hits close to home," says Larry Green, a retired Army soldier and a salesman at Ray's Ford. "It's like losing a family member each and every time we put a cross out."
At a time when the Bush administration is closely monitoring images of flag-draped caskets containing US casualties, memorials are springing up across the country honoring those killed in Iraq - some intended to convey overt political messages and others just to show support.
As memorials grow from porches and front gates of Army bases across the country, the phenomenon is part of a broader return of mourning symbols and rituals in American society. They also offer a rare touchstone in what has become a fractious divide in the United States over the current military situation in the Middle East.
"These memorials are popping up as avenues to give voice to different areas of the country," says Alan Wolfelt, the director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colo. "It's one thing to have a memorial in Washington, but not everyone can travel there. These roadside memorials allow people to ... experience the healthy functions of converting grief to mourning - no matter your politics."
Some are simple collections of mementos on the family porch of a slain soldier. Others are more elaborate. Cobbled together with flags and flowers, bricks and crosses, these expressions of grief, support, and even protest are giving Americans vaunted places to absorb the real costs of war, to reflect, and to pray.
Outside Fort Carson, Colo., a new black granite memorial with a map of Iraq and the names of 49 fallen soldiers from the 3rd Task Force Armored Cavalry Regiment was recently unveiled. At the bottom is an inscription that rings of Kipling: "Brave Rifles! Veterans. You have been baptized in fire and blood, and have come out steel."
Today's memorialization harks back to an expression of home that was typified in the 1940s by the popularity of the song "White Christmas," which spoke about Christmases past and coming home - as opposed to the Vietnam War, when the concept of "home" itself was in disarray, both generationally and politically.
In Fonda, N.Y., Veterans for Peace planted 833 crosses in 40 neat lines as part of a temporary memorial at the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. One local Vietnam veteran, Joe Fonda of nearby Fultonville, says he doesn't oppose the display. "They're doing two things - they're trying to get people home, and they're honoring our dead," he says.