Monday, August 18, 2008

More crosses to be added to Lafayette memorial

Lois Hood's mother is dying.

And when you are face to face with something like that, she said, you think about death a lot, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and all of the soldiers killed there.

The Danville dancer thought of these things Sunday — her mother, the troops, her son who served in Iraq — when she put on paint-splattered overalls and went to the Lafayette Crosses memorial on a steep hillside along Highway 24 near a BART station.

She goes every other Sunday to pull weeds or touch up peeling paint on the white wooden crosses. This Sunday, she went to help co-founder Jeff Heaton start building 600 more crosses — in addition to the 4,122 already there — to honor soldiers killed in Afghanistan. So far, the memorial has only focused on those killed in Iraq.

Heaton said the presidential election partly prompted the addition.

"We have a progressive candidate who wants to start pulling troops out of Iraq, but at the same time, send more to Afghanistan," he said of presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama.

"It's clear the (Bush) administration lied about why we needed to go to Iraq, and I think Afghanistan was just a steppingstone to get us there. But these days, there seem to be more soldiers dying in Afghanistan.

"People think everything's fine there, but it isn't."

It'll take awhile to get the crosses up, Heaton said, and they will be scattered throughout.

"This is a Advertisementhill that is so steep, you don't expect to see a bunch of crosses on it when you drive by it," said John Jensen, a volunteer from Kensington. "It makes a statement that this is an unnatural situation. We're still dying over there."

Toward the memorial base, there are several crosses adorned with broken pieces of stained glass.

Sunlight bounces off their greens and reds, as if to say, "These are different." And they are.

The stained-glass crosses are for the thousands of soldiers — no one knows quite how many — who have committed suicide.

Jensen knows about that. His nephew served in the Gulf War in 1991 and then took his own life.

"I love coming to work out here," Jensen said. "It's quiet and meditative and sometimes we don't even talk to each other while we pull weeds and clean. It's a personal thing for each of us."

He spoke of a World War II veteran who sometimes drives his old station wagon to the base of the hill Sundays, pulls out a battery-powered amplification system and plays taps on it.

Everyone there will stand up and salute while the song is playing. When it's over, the man loads up his system and drives away.

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