Monday, September 27, 2004

Dayton Continued

We just received this email from someone who visited the memorial.

"Yesterday, I attended the EYES WIDE OPEN exhibit and can never be the same person again.

It was overwhelming. Profoundly moving. Terribly sad. Much too real. I haven't been able to stop weeping. (This is VERY unusual behavior for this 57-year old non-crying man.)I've emailed my experience to my friends and many are in the western states.

I see only eastern and midwestern exhibits listed on your website. Is there a different branch of AFSC handling the west? Please let me know so I can tell my western friends about this must see/feel experience.

Thank you all SO much for what you've accomplished."

Note: Eyes Wide Open will be heading west in late January, taking the southern route through Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. We hope to be in southern California in late February or early March and then head up the west coast of California, Oregon and Washington. Over 50 requests have come in for the new year.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Still More from Dayton

I just received this from a friend who visited the memorial in Dayton:

"Both of my sons and families went today. I hooked up with my 9 year old grandson, A.J., late this afternoon. A.J. told me he was so angry... I asked why. He said because he saw all those thousands of military boots that meant soldiers died and all the shoes for the Iraq people who died and there was even a 17 year old soldier who got killed. He was as angry as a 9 year old can be. Then he stopped in mid-sentence and said he didn't want to talk about the war any longer because it was too depressing."

More from Dayton

This weekend a family drove all the way from Pittsburgh to visit the memorial. Their nephew had been killed in Iraq and they were not able to attend the funeral. They came to honor him and gain some closure on his death.

Four widows of the September 11th tragedy visited the exhibit on Friday, to pay their respects to more victims.

Saturday night they held an all-night candlelight vigil. Over 100 tea lights were spread throughout the boots. A cello played in the background.

Friday, September 24, 2004


I talked with Bob, who said that his friend was a Vietnam vet just recently diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome. It has been forty years since he was in Vietnam and it is just now hitting him.

His friend feels fragile and on the edge. Bob saw Eyes Wide Open in Dayton yesterday, and as soon as he saw the 1,041 pairs of combat boots, he called his friend and told him not to come. He feared that it would be too traumatic for him to see it.

His friend told him that he has to come, he needs to come. He plans on coming on Saturday. Check back and see what happens.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Build Iraq War Memorial Now

The following op-ed by Michael McConnell appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Springfield, IL newspaper and today in the Dayton Daily News. The Dayton paper has almost a full page with a nice drawing of combat boots and the announcement of the opening of Eyes Wide Open in Dayton, tomorrow.

Build war memorial during war
We should remember fallen troops and civilians while there is still time to stop the violence

By Michael McConnell. Michael McConnell is regional director for the American Friends Service Committee in the Midwest

Because the Vietnam War still haunts elections, perhaps it and the current war should haunt our souls as well.

I remember listening to the nightly newscasters in 1968 dutifully reporting the daily body counts from Vietnam. Did the numbers numb the nation or provoke a generation into opposition to the war?

Body bags appeared regularly in the news. We don't see that in the current war because of Pentagon policies about photographing coffins. Did their presence in the media dull us to the humanity wrapped in plastic or spur us on to more determined efforts to stop a war that is generally seen today as a tragic mistake?

I remember Buddhist monks dousing themselves with gasoline and setting themselves on fire in a desperate effort to stop the killing. Did that ultimate sacrifice make us turn away in disgust or inspire us to greater commitment in stopping the napalming of villages?

What if the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall had been built as the war was happening, with the names of the fallen chiseled daily in its black facade and new sections added each month? Would that have hastened the end of the war as anonymous statistics took on a name and presence?

I now believe that war memorials to the combatants and civilians who die should be erected during the war, while there is still time to stop the violence. I believe this after experiencing "Eyes Wide Open: The Human Cost of the Iraq War," a traveling memorial created by the American Friends Service Committee.

The memorial quite simply consists of a pair of combat boots, each tagged with the name, rank, age and home state of a fallen U.S. soldier. Another pair of boots is added with each military death. A 24-foot wall bears the names of more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians and details on their deaths. A pile of hundreds of shoes of all sizes represents a fraction of the loss of Iraqi lives.

Visitors' reactions

But it is the interactions with the exhibit by visitors that make me realize that memorials have to be built during, not after, wars. In Taunton, Mass., the funeral of Lance Cpl. John James Van Gyzen IV, who was killed in Iraq, was happening on one side of town, while the traveling Iraq memorial was on the other side.

After the burial, his mother went to the boots, found the one with her son's name and tied his picture on with red, white and blue ribbon. She placed a rose in the boot. Then she turned to the organizer and said, "I guess I belong here."

In Amherst, Mass., the Lucey family donated their son's uniform and boots to the exhibit. Jeffrey Lucey committed suicide a few months after returning from Iraq. Last Christmas, in a fit of depression, he threw the dog tags he carried around his neck at his sister, shouting, "Your brother is a murderer." The dog tags belonged to two unarmed Iraqi soldiers he had been ordered to kill. He wore their names everywhere to pay homage to them.

I have seen relatives sit in front of the symbolic boots of their loved ones, weeping, taking photos of the boots and leaving mementos.

Invariably, as visitors view the combat boots, they remark how young the soldiers were. They say that standing in the midst of a sea of empty boots makes them visualize the faces and imagine the lives that should be there but are not.

On one occasion in Boston, a young woman knelt in front of the piles of shoes representing the slain Iraqi civilians. She sat down, removed her own shoes and placed them gently on the pile, then walked away barefoot. She said she had just heard of an Iraqi boy who had died because he could not get his insulin and wanted to place her own shoes in memory of him.

The biggest criticism leveled at the peace movement during Vietnam was that we did not welcome back the troops. They became the enemy. Not this time. More and more people understand that we can support the troops while condemning the war. Many joined the military because they faced either dead-end jobs or no jobs at all.

Most signed up in the National Guard to get money for education or extra support for their families or to help during natural disasters. The 26 suicides of those who served in Iraq show that killing other human beings was not why many joined.

More and more, the Iraq war looks like we threw a barrel of gasoline to douse a match.

This time, it is not Buddhist monks immolating themselves, it is Carlos Arredondo, 44, the father of Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, his 20-year-old son who had died in August in Najaf. The elder Arredondo became so distraught upon knowing that his beloved son was dead, he went to the garage, got a can of gasoline, went to the Marine van outside and torched it and himself.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently said: "I'm sick and tired of reopening the wounds of the Vietnam War. As we speak, some young American is dying in Iraq. All the issues facing the nation are being lost."

The wounds of Vietnam have not been reopened; they were never closed.

Just watch the people as they pass the Vietnam memorial wall. Even the Department of Veterans Affairs puts the number of Vietnam vets suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at 400,000. Others say 1.5 million. Whatever the number, they are four times more likely to divorce; they represent a large proportion of America's homeless and they are increasingly more likely to commit suicide as the years go by.

We are surrounded by the walking wounded of the last great U.S. imperial adventure. How long and how many will suffer from the current one?

Let politicians, media see

So let's build the granite wall in Washington, D.C., right now, close to where our elected and appointed officials pass every day. Let them and the media watch as hammer strikes chisel daily to record the next deaths. Let us chisel into stone the names of all of the victims, Iraqi and U.S. combined.

We have passed the 1,000th death of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. That puts us in danger of the number of fallen becoming a mind-numbing statistic, rather than a human tragedy.

Now is the time to join the private grief of individual military families and the public mourning of a nation. Candles should burn in every federal plaza, heads should bow, church bells should ring and minds should think about the blood spilled on both sides. The first question should then be: Is it worth it?

Private grief leads to private questions. Why was my son or daughter, husband or wife taken from me? Rosemarie Slavenas of Rockford, just one example out of a thousand, asks why her son Brian, who landed a helicopter under hostile fire saving lives, lay bleeding on the ground for half an hour?

Public grief leads to public questions. Why was Brian, a sensitive young man who told his mother, "I don't want to hurt anybody," taken from us as a nation? Why was someone who did not want to harm others taken from a city that bans the sale of guns, taken from a post-Columbine nation that worries about bullying in our schools?

Public mourning leads to political questions, such as why is this war being fought and what is the cost to this nation?

It is the 18th month of the Iraq war, and I can hear the hammer falling on the chisel for the thousandth time on the U.S. side.

Whose name will it carve? And when will the hammering stop?

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

Xavier University

I received a call from a friend yesterday whose sister had seen Eyes Wide Open in Cincinnati. In the past they have been unable to even discuss the Iraq War becasue of their totally opposite views.

The friend said that maybe the sister will not change her mind, but for the first time, the memorial may have opened up the space for them to at least talk about it.


Moving speeches by Celeste Zappala and Fernando Suarez de Solar had people walking by Federal Palaza in tears last Thursday.

One man, who looked like he may be homeless, placed his shoes on the pile of shoes representing the deaths of Iraqi civilians. He then pulled a pair of tennis shoes from his backpack and moved on.

One military family member told a group of AFSC supporters Friday night that if it were not for Eyes Wide Open he may have gone crazy with the anger and frustration he had been feeling about the war.

This week People magazine features a two-page spread on Eyes Wide Open on Page 88.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


In the heartland of the United States, at the crossroads of Indianapolis, the Iraq War Memorial stood on the circle monument, the granite monument to Indiana veterans. The combat boots radiated out down the steps from the granite wall that bore the names of regiments that had fought as early as the Mexican War.

One poignant moment was when a high school student walked among the boots. He was against the war, but he had come to see the display to show his support. He was talking with a reporter when he was surprised that he was more emotional than he had expected to be. Seeing the ages of many of the soldiers and feeling like he could be one of them brought the exhibit to a level that both saddened and shocked him.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

More Stories from Central Park

Over 300 volunteers assisted with the Eyes Wide Open Exhibit in NY city.

Magie Dominik wrote eloquently about the exhibit in Central Park where both the boots and shoes were placed in orderly concentric circles. She writes:

"Few people walked through the display, most lingered on the outside, speaking quietly or silently staring. Workers separated mounds of boots and moved them to appropriate sections. A pair on a bench to my left had a tag attached with the name "Martin." In another area, a woman called out to a co-worker, "I have an extra pair of boots, I have an extra pair," as if she held a life in her hand. There would undoubtedly, and unfortunately, be a name attached to the pair before the month was over, possibly within the hour." Read her whole essay at Common Dreams.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

The Bronx Volunteer

The two Bronx residents had seen the Eyes Wide Open exhibit on TV and rushed down to Central Park to see it. Unfortunately they arrived too late as volunteers were packing up the boots.

As a consolation they asked to buy the special exhibit t-shirts, but Central Park policy prohibited their sale.

One of our staff gave them each a t-shirt if they promised to return the next day at 7AM to volunteer.

One returned punctually at 7AM. He had been out with friends the night before and was their designated driver. They got in so late that he just decided to stay up all night. He was afraid that if he went to sleep he wouldn't wake up in time, and he had promised he would be there.

He was so impressed with the exhibit and worked hard sweating profusely as he hauled the boots from the truck to Judson Memorial Church. He has been against the war and was so appreciative of the opportunity to DO something.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Chicago Tribune Goes to NY

Charlie Madigan the editor of the Sunday Perspective section of the Chicago Tribune had a blog during the Republican National Convention. He stopped by the Eyes Wide Open exhibit in Union Square on Wednesday and here is his report.

"September 1, 2004 2:25 PM CDT: An arresting moment. The weather broke overnight and so I headed off to Union Square today to see what was up after a night of listening to speeches at the Republican Convention and watching street protests. I found myself standing beside the boots representing Pfc. Joel K. Brattain, who was 21 and who came from California.

These substitute boots, and a couple of pictures, were right between the substitute boots of Lance Cpl. Brad S. Shuder and Pfc. Steven Acosta. There were almost 1,000 other pairs of military boots standing in silence in Union Square too, all of them reflecting the sadness of soldiers and Marines killed in Iraq.

The feeling was arresting. It stopped you right in place and forced you to look out over that field of black boots, marching to nowhere and to eternity at exactly the same time.

The headlines this morning talked about the arrests of some 1,000 protesters Tuesday as some events got out of hand and people, some of them who came here just to get arrested, found the New York City Police Department completely accommodating. I wondered what protest might look like in the midst of people who are pledged to non-violence, and how they felt about confrontation.

So I visited with the Quakers. Using boots was an idea born in Chicago's American Friends Service Committee office. Mike McConnell, the regional Friends director in Chicago, worked out the plan. donated the first batch of boots. The Quakers brought the boots here and lined them up, along with shoes representing more than 600 Iraqi civilian deaths. McConnell, who was at a Quaker conference in Seattle, told me by phone that the Chicago Friends wanted to find a symbolic way to show what the fatality numbers actually meant.

At 10:55 a.m., a collection of people from September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows rolled a huge stone, like a headstone, into the square on a cart built to look like a coffin. It had been pulled all the way from Boston.

Put all of that together and no one really had to shout about anything. The Quakers stood quietly around the boots, answering questions and waiting to update a post that had flip numbers on it representing the number of American servicemen killed in action. The number was at 974 when I looked at it at about 10:30 a.m.

Elizabeth Enloe of the New York Friends was at the scene to talk about the display. My assumption was that the press kit she handed out would have all the easy answers. That's not what I wanted to ask. I wanted to know whether she felt that the media attention paid to arrests would overwhelm the message the Quakers were trying to send.

No, she said. Nonviolence carries with it a built-in credibility. The Quakers aim for a peaceful, respectful solemnity and they believe that is louder than any noise any one else can make. This display has been on tour since January, and it produces strong responses everywhere it goes.

Enloe said earlier in the day a veteran who was walking in Union Square asked if he could be the one to flip over the numbers counting American war dead. He made it to exactly one number, 974 she said, then he was overcome by emotion and, weeping, had to stop.

A man from Florida who had been a Boy Scout leader found the shoes representing two of his Scouts. A woman from Arizona found the shoes representing the first Native American woman killed in the war. Even as Enloe was speaking, there were more visitors, looking through the shoes, which are organized by state, for their friends, relatives, loved ones."

Be sure to visit his blog.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Watch Chicago Tribune Weblog

Charles Madigan is keeping a daily weblog at the Republican National Convention. He just visited the Eyes Wide Open exhibit in Union Square and will be writing about it later today. Check it out here.

Union Square, New York City

The boots are displayed in semi-circles but there is not enough space to hold the nearly 1,000 casualties. The boots from Texas had to be piled up marking a tragic consequence of the war, even our large urban parks are not sufficient to hold the war's dead.

Early this morning, a woman was leaving the farmer's market nearby when she came upon the boots. Surprised and awed she stood open mouthed and then began to cry. She went over to the piles of shoes representing the Iraqi civilian casualties and began distributing the flowers she had just bought along the pile.

Her witness has caught on as many of the boots now are filled with flowers.

Later today a silent Quaker vigil with volunteers all wearing the T-shirts with the boots on front and the words "War is Costly." On the back of the shirt are the words in red and black, "Peace is Priceless."

The media swarmed to the park at 7:30AM as the volunteers were setting up.