They’re dying as kites flutter and drift, as the Ferris wheel circles and the roller coaster dives. They’re dying as colorful beach umbrellas line the shore, shrieking children toss balls and airplanes buzz.
Comprehension eludes me that life can continue while they’re risking their lives.
I stand facing hundreds of crosses placed in the sand, looming up like lines of white ghosts. They represent a portion of more than 4,158 American soldiers killed so far in Iraq since 2003, under “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
This is Arlington West, just north of the Santa Monica Pier.
It’s a powerful visual statement staged every Sunday by volunteers of Veterans for Peace. They erect this display of the ravages of war to make us understand the horror, to disturb our souls.
“Taps” wails through the air as shock, anguish and grief overwhelm me. Why? Why? I ask.
While I’m sitting in the sand, contemplating, a man holding a child’s hand passes by and says, “Have a good day.” The banana I had just eaten turns rancid in my gut as I ask, “Good day?” He answers, “Mankind will probably never learn, so we grieve, and go on living.”
Go on living? I face a photo collection of American soldiers who’ve returned to “go on living” with mangled minds and bodies, missing limbs, shattered faces and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
And each week, more than 100 veterans commit suicide.
A poster with names of more than one million dead Iraqis tries to explain the enormity: “Imagine walking with one foot in front of the other, toe to heel. Each step is one Iraqi’s life. If you took one step for each… you would walk 190 miles.”
I speak with a tall, healthy-looking veteran of four tours in Iraq who now resides at the veterans hospital in Westwood. He looks “normal,” but exists by living one day at a time, and receives therapy for his constant nightmares. He says the hardest thing for him that morning was placing the six flag-draped coffins amid the crosses — for the six Americans killed that very week.
The other volunteers I speak with say they are tired and really need help to continue displaying this important message. But I will never go back. I can’t. It tore my heart, made me feel too impotent, too helpless to do anything to stop this insanity.
I’ll find other ways — write letters to those who rule, speak with those who are uncaring and indifferent. This silent statement made its impact — until the war and the dying end, I remain disturbed.
Information about Arlington West, www.veteransforpeacela .org/ or (323) 934-3451.