Arlington West: Veterans for Peace
It's Sunday morning at Santa Monica Civic Pier, an amusement park that juts out into Los Angeles Bay. The video game machines, children's rides and fried foods and souvenir booths are already busy and the flow of customers is beginning to swell. But one part of the crowd is being diverted another way.
A crew of volunteer military veterans, at work on the big, wide beach before dawn, has installed a memorial, one that's put up and removed every Sunday. They have left behind a field of several hundred white crosses, with a few red and blue ones for contrast, stretching in neat rows toward the water. In front are a dozen flag-draped coffins, and near them, a few light tents produce shade out of the hot sun for bulletin boards on which are long lists of the names of the dead and wounded, American casualties in Iraq. They flutter lightly in the breeze like the ribbons decorating a veteran's hat on Memorial Day. There are also photographs of soldiers recovering from their wounds. Most of the young faces smile for the cameras: smiles of relief, smiles of valor, smiles of pain – like the smiles on the faces of young fighters anywhere. Similar emplacements are taking place every Sunday at a number of other locations around the country.
No matter how one feels about this war, the display successfully evokes the actual conflict taking place behind a media blackout in the desert half a world away. Sand, sun, tent barracks, field hospital, cemetery – everything is there, in one form or another. Even the various bits of beach grooming machinery left scattered about and half buried in the sand manage to suggest the destruction of war. Meanwhile, no overt statement or call to action interrupts or distracts from the deliberate juxtaposition of trivial hustle and bustle on the big, solid pier above and the dignified reminders of unrecoverable sacrifice on the sand below.
My wife and I move through it separately for about twenty minutes, unaware of being enveloped, until at one moment we turn toward each other. When our glances meet, we each see the other is weeping.
desert storm —
surgeons under heat lamps
reassemble a soldier's face
Garry Eaton is a newcomer to the world of haiku/haibun. He has been published only recently by Red Thread Haiku Sangha and by Contemporary Haibun Online. He is retired, and lives in Port Moody, British Columbia, Canada. His major literary project for the future, besides striving to improve as a haijin, is to write the biography of a once prominent American capitalist and peace activist, Cyrus Stephen Eaton, whose life and career he has been researching for several years.