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The Cost of War

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A somber reminder of war at San Diego State University Thursday. An all-day protest was hard to miss. KPBS Reporter Ed Joyce tells us how a campus lawn was transformed into a cemetery.

The Cost of War

 A somber reminder of war at San Diego State University Thursday. An all-day protest was hard to miss. KPBS reporter Ed Joyce tells us how a campus lawn was transformed into a cemetery.

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More than 3,000 small white crosses filled a grassy rise alongside a main campus pathway. Just west of the trolley station, the lawn resembled a mini-version of a veterans cemetery. Jim Brown is with the group Veterans for Peace. 

Brown: I am a Marine Corps veteran. I was in Vietnam, I was in combat, got a purple heart and combat ribbon. And so now I'm here, showing the cost of war. We have about 3,000-plus crosses here, and it took us a couple of hours, but we had a lot of help from the students here. We probably had about 20 students helping us, you know an old guy like me it takes me five minutes to put one in the ground and stand back up again, those guys can put down ten in a minute.

Reporter Ed Joyce: And what do these crosses represent, I notice there's names on the crosses?

Brown: There's one cross for each of the soldiers killed in the Iraqi invasion and occupation. And that includes about 65 women, all different age groups, they're all here, everyone of them. We have their name, the day they died, what their age and what their hometown is.

Joyce: What's been the reaction from students walking by looking at this, I see a number of them are actually pausing to look and talk about it?

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Brown:  I've had a lot of students and administrator-type people come by and talk about it. They almost all know somebody who's died or has been over there. They basically, they thank us for doing it, we're not here to give speeches or something. We're just here to put this up to show the cost of war.

Brown: Right there, there's three crosses over there and a woman mailed us their names and said, "Could you please put this up on the display? You know they all died together in an IED bombing over in Iraq and we want to be sure you have them up there." So we gathered them up and put them up. We're going to take a picture of it and send it back to her as a courtesy, and we'd do that to anybody who sent it, so that's what we set up right there.

Brown: The wife of a guy left a very personal note just over there. I don't want to read the note to you, but a very personal one and it brings tears to my eyes. And I think I'm a grizzled old veteran from Vietnam and I'm crying like a baby when I read that. This thing affects people. These aren't pieces of sticks and stones. I mean these are human beings who've died and left their families and their children and they've all suffered in this and I think people ignore this, it's in the back-pages, that's why we're out here.

One SDSU student paused longer than most. Twenty-seven-year-old Jason Gobel seemed in deep reflection, looking at one cross in particular. Like Vietnam veteran Jim Brown, Gobel too knows the high cost of war.

Gobel: Actually a good friend of mine is Captain Stamis. We were both in Iraq and he's a pilot, I was an enlisted guy. And he crashed his helicopter and died so, it's weird because I'm writing a story for my writing class and I actually mentioned him, so it's just bringing back memories right now. 

What does this mean to you as a veteran and a student seeing this visual representation of the cost of war?

Gobel: It hits you know, I think everyone is starting to see it up close and personal as far like how many and you know and being a veteran it's sort of hard to say if this is good or bad but this sort of brings it home, home to you.

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.

(Photo: More than 3,000 small white crosses filled a grassy rise alongside a main SDSDU pathway as part of war protest. Ed Joyce/KPBS ).