Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Cape and Islands NPR Monday Morning Report

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Photo was taken by Ken F in the afternoon at Coast Guard Beach, Eastham, Mass.


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Coast Guard beach in Eastham should be deserted at dawn on a cold October morning. But this past Saturday, just after six AM, volunteers offload white wooden crosses from the back of a truck.
Donated coffee and doughnuts sit on a small table nearby. The volunteers hoist the crosses - 2,700 in all - onto their shoulders for the long trek down to the beach. There, the crosses will be arranged in a 600-foot long memorial called Arlington East, designed to recall Arlington National Cemetery. The idea is modeled after similar displays on the west coast, and near the Bush ranch in Texas. The event is sponsored by Cape Cod Veterans for Peace, and Cape Codders for Peace and Justice. They've received a one- day permit from the Park Service, and the elaborate display will be removed by day's end.

Diane Turco: "Oh my God, this is going to be just - very powerful. wow."That's Diane Turco, one of the events main organizers. In addition to the white crosses, a group of 200 thin plywood gravestones symbolize Iraqi children killed in the war.

Reporter: "How many of these gravestones are there?"Diane Turco: "There are 200 gravestones representing children who have died in Iraq. And as you can see, they lettered in English the name and age of the child, and then they wrote their names in Arabic.

"Reporter: "Can you read a couple?"Diane Turco: "Kahn Naj Adan, age 6, Zahara Kahlad Adar, age 7, Kahlid Gali Assan, age 5.

"Just beyond the grey headstones, John Bangert coordinates a team of volunteers who hammer the white crosses into the sand in neat rows. Bangert wears a red baseball cap, and a large, multi-colored peace flag is draped around his shoulders like a Superman cape.

John Bangert: "We're putting these crosses, as the morning sun is reflecting brightly on these all-recycled painted crosses, they're 10 inches by about 26 inches, and they're designed to fit deep into the Cape Cod sand. And we're leveling them, and we're trying to do the visual to make it look like Arlington cemetery in Virginia. And it's not a protest. It's just really a visual for people to come to some conclusion about this. And we hope they do.

'Aseel Al Banna has traveled from her home in Washington, DC to be here. She grew up in Baghdad, and her family is now living temporarily in Aman, Jordan. She says she's angry about the American occupation of her country, but she says she appreciates the people behind the beach memorial.

Aseel Al Banna: "I'm proud of them. They did this, they organized this, they're here at six in the morning to make this happen. I'm also thankful that they're honoring the Iraqi children and civilians that died.

"Not far down the beach, surfers in wet-suits paddle out to ride the perfect early-morning breakers. One of them is Matt Rivers of Orleans. He emerges from the water, surfboard under one arm and salt spray glistening on his face. He doesn't quite know what to make of the rows of white wooden crosses and headstones.

Matt Rivers: "Kinda eerie, kinda spooky (laugh). A lotta people, like, that don't follow the media - I'm kinda one of 'em, really - like, to see it up front in your face kinda awakens you a little bit, you know, to what's going on over there. Pretty sad."

Around noon, the finished display begins to attract a crowd. One of the onlookers is Andrew Sapp, an Iraq veteran diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

Andrew Sapp: "When you look at all these crosses..."Reporter: "We're looking literally as far as the eye can see, right?"Andrew Sapp: "Literally, yeah, hundreds and hundreds of feet, and rows on rows of crosses here. And when you stop and think that every one of these stands for a life, and every life has a mother and a father, spouse, children, siblings, the effect of this war is so huge.

'The crowd gathers around a bonfire for an interfaith prayer service and family remembrances of loved ones lost in Iraq.Supporters of the Iraq war point out that 2,700 American fatalities, while tragic, is relatively low compared to the 55,000 soldiers who were killed in the Vietnam War. They also point out that although the Iraq war has now lasted nearly as long as the American involvement in World War II, 2,700 dead represents less than one percent of the more than 500,000 Americans who died in that conflict. Arlington East will be mounted in other locations around the East Coast, with Philadelphia next on the list.

Broadcast October 16, 2006Brian Morris reports for WCAI, the cape and Islands NPR Station.



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