Memorial Mile to recognize fallen soldiers

Veterans for Peace will be displaying more than 4,900 tombstones on Eighth Ave.

Published: Friday, May 22, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 10:52 p.m.

Debbie Farr's son was killed during his third tour in Iraq.

After eight years in the Army, some spent in Germany and some in the Middle East, Chad Lake was ready to return home.

But he died one month into his last year-long tour.

"It was getting to be a strain on him," said Farr, who lives in Ocala.

Now, four years after her son's death, Farr tries to stay busy.

She attends Veteran's Day and Memorial Day displays to honor her son and the thousands of other service men and women who have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This weekend, Farr, 55, plans to travel to Gainesville to witness the Memorial Mile, a display lining the street along Eighth Avenue just east of 34th Street.

The Gainesville chapter of Veterans for Peace will be displaying more than 4,900 tombstones from sun-up Saturday to sundown Monday, Memorial Day.

The small, white tombstones will be arranged by year in four rows on both sides of the street, representing each soldier who has died in the conflicts in the Middle East since 2001.

Soldiers with local ties will have American flags placed on their tombstones.

Scott Camil, who founded the chapter in 1987 and conceived the idea, said visually impactful displays like the Memorial Mile force the public to think about the actual costs of war, even if only for a couple days.

"Most people can't name the local soldiers who have died in the war," he said. "This display makes them pay attention; it makes them feel how much a war can affect them."

Camil is a twice-wounded veteran of the Vietnam War and a nationally known political activist who was a defendant in the 1973 Gainesville Eight trial. He and seven others were indicted on charges of conspiracy to disrupt the 1972 Republican Convention. A federal jury in Gainesville acquitted Camil after he represented himself at the trial.

The Memorial Mile is not a protest against the war, but a memorial to those who have died for U.S. citizens, said Jessica Newman, a representative for Veterans for Peace.

This is the third year the organization will construct the display, and more than 400 tombstones will be added to those from last year.

Code Pink: Women for Peace also will be displaying the Peace Ribbon alongside the Memorial Mile on the north side of the street.

It is nearly 1,000 feet long, and is made up of 2-foot by 3-foot panels tied together with ribbon. Each panel memorializes a U.S. soldier, Iraqi civilian or journalist who has died in the Iraq War. The Peace Ribbon was on display at the White House for Mother's Day.

Jacque Betz, the Peace Ribbon Project coordinator and member of the Gainesville Code Pink group, said, "There is an incredible amount of loss of life associated with war, and representing it visually like this really shows people what being at war really means."

A cost of war presentation will also be on display. Veterans for Peace will have a list available at the Memorial Mile to direct visitors to specific tombstones.

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