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Temporary memorial 'personalizes' war

Passers-by look at the gravelike markers, part of the Arlington Northwest Memorial, which was set up Sunday along Ruston Way, adjacent to Commencement Bay, in Tacoma. The marker in the foreground, in part, reads "Cpl. Glenn J. Watkins, Company B, 161st Infantry, Tacoma, Washington, Age 42." A note about his family follows.
Passers-by look at the gravelike markers, part of the Arlington Northwest Memorial, which was set up Sunday along Ruston Way, adjacent to Commencement Bay, in Tacoma. The marker in the foreground, in part, reads "Cpl. Glenn J. Watkins, Company B, 161st Infantry, Tacoma, Washington, Age 42." A note about his family follows. The Olympian

Tacoma - Jeri Marie Bennett was jolted Sunday by thousands of simulated grave markers lining the grass along Ruston Way, bearing silent testimony to the lives lost in Iraq.

“It startled me (with) the enormity of it,” the Puyallup woman said. “When you stop and realize how many young people we’ve lost, it makes you feel sick.”

Bennett was driving to Point Defiance for a hike when she spotted the traveling graveyard and felt compelled to pull over and walk among the headstones.

The Arlington Northwest Memorial moves from city to city, serving as a reminder that the 4,416 American service members who have died in the war are more than just a number. They had names, dreams and families who love them.

They are still missed, and will not be forgotten.

“This is a message on the true cost of war,” said Ray Nacanaynay, president of the Tacoma chapter of Veterans for Peace, which sponsored the event. “These are real people.”

“We want people to see what 2,200 lives look like,” vice president Dave Dittemore said.

Because of limited space, organizers were able to put up only 2,200 markers. Hundreds of others were bound with rubber bands and left stacked beneath a canopy.

The project was started six years ago, intended to be a quiet demonstration that could spark conversation and emotion among those who happened upon the graveyard. The markers are cut from white cardboard with the name, age and date of death written on the placard.

Volunteers have inscribed most of them, but in some cases, family members of the fallen have scribbled personal messages or placed a photograph on the marker.

About 100 of the placards displayed in Marine Park over the weekend listed the names of military members from Washington. Those had purple or blue ribbons attached and were grouped together on the grass between the sidewalk and the street.

The memorial took 31/2 hours to put up early Saturday morning. Someone with Veterans for Peace stood guard overnight to prevent vandalism. It was taken down Sunday evening.

“It was a very moving experience when you read the headstones and see what’s on them,” said Don R. Johnson, a Bellingham man who visited the memorial with his daughter. “It personalizes the war. This really brings it home.”

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653 stacia.glenn@thenewstribune.com

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