LAFAYETTE (CBS SF) — The last white cross has been hammered into the hillside memorial in Lafayette this week, memorial organizers said.
The memorial, which was erected in 2006, had placed a cross for each United States military death since entering Iraq in 2003. But with the growing number of casualties overseas, project organizer Baika Pratt said, “It’s too hard to keep track of.”
Dozens of American soldiers, including 30 Navy SEALs, who died when their helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan last weekend highlight the growing number of casualties that have made the memorial difficult to maintain.
Approximately 4,000 crosses, Stars of David and Islamic crescents blanket the hillside, and Jeff Heaton, who started the memorial, said it has become difficult for the dozen active volunteers to upkeep the land.
This core group goes out once a month to maintain the memorial by trimming grass, as well as repairing and painting fading crosses.
The memorial began with 300 crosses and a sign that read “In Memory of 2839 U.S. Troops Killed In Iraq.” The sign now reads, “In Memory Of Our Troops,” with the death total number from the Department of Defense.
Heaton continually sees people visiting the memorial, some of whom are relatives of fallen soldiers.
“It’s more for their personal need to find closure,” Heaton said. “I’m always finding more crosses being decorated.”
The total number of American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan stands at 6,198, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The war has gone on so long, it’s crazy,” Heaton said. “The crosses represent where we went wrong to begin with.”
“We think a statement is still being made,” Pratt said. “The statement is there are consequences for actions.”
The memorial across from the Lafayette BART station on Deer Hill Road has generally been supported by the Lafayette community and has seen the number of opponents fade, Heaton said.
“It’s a memorial and will always be a memorial,” Pratt said.
Organizers hope one day there is an official memorial for those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan similar to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“There’s no Iraq memorial like there’s a Vietnam memorial,” Heaton said. “(The hill) plays an important function.”
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