An army of candles will light the bases of over 1,600 crosses on West Beach this Memorial Day weekend, as the Santa Barbara Veterans for Peace honor the memory of U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq.
The candles will be lit at 7:15 p.m. Sunday, and the crosses will remain through Monday at the Arlington West memorial site, located next to Stearns Wharf downtown. Mayor Marty Blum and U.S. Congresswoman Lois Capps will speak at the beginning of the ceremony, and the remainder of the night will be designated as a time for silent reflection in honor of the soldiers who have given their lives for their country. The memorial ceremony will be free and open to the public.
Tom Urban, a Veterans for Peace member and the organizer of this weekend’s ceremony, said his organization has erected small crosses at the memorial site every Sunday since the program was created in November 2003. He said more than 300 families of soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq have visited the memorial, leaving trinkets like service ribbons and photographs in remembrance of their lost family members. He also said this weekend’s service would be different with the addition of candles to the memorial.
“It is a tribute to the military,” Urban said. “We want to raise awareness about what 1,600 American lives look like. The crosses are laid out like they would be in a cemetery – it’s very moving.”
Lane Anderson, another Veterans for Peace member, said the participants will also commemorate the more than 100,000 Iraqi citizens who have died during the war by scattering additional candles around the memorial and forming a line of candles along the beach.
“We are just trying to give an impression of the cost of war to the Iraqis, as well as the Americans,” Anderson said. “A lot of people asked us to bring to light the suffering of the Iraqis.”
Capps, who is Santa Barbara’s Democratic congressional representative, said she believes Memorial Day is a time for Americans to put aside their political views and pay tribute to those who sacrifice their lives for the nation.
“Although I have been critical of the war in Iraq, I will always stand by our troops,” Capps said. “I honor the lives of each and every one of those lost and am grateful to them for their service.”
Blum said she will speak to the crowd about the meaning of the Arlington West memorial and its importance to Santa Barbara. She said she hopes the memorial will serve as a reminder to the community that American soldiers are risking their lives in Iraq every day.
“It’s like a freedom of speech thing,” Blum said. “It says, ‘Look how many lives we’re losing because of the war.’ Whether you’re for war or not, if you’re pro-Iraq or against it, it’s a good reminder for what we are asking our young people to do.”