Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The human cost

Cape Cod News
The human cost

EASTHAM - Her son taught nursery school. He was a case worker for mentally retarded adults. And he was a member of Pennsylvania National Guard who hoped the military would help him pay for his education.

Sgt. Sherwood Baker, 30, lost his life on April 26, 2004, when shrapnel from a nearby explosion in Iraq struck him in the back of his head, said his mother, Celeste Zappala of Pennsylvania.

His death is what brought Zappala to Coast Guard Beach in Eastham yesterday, where her son's cross stood among about 2,800 small grave markers plunged into the sand, each representing a U.S. soldier who has died in Iraq. Headstones nearby represented some of the Iraqi children killed in the war.

On a clear day, they stretched as far as the eye could see. The erection of ''Arlington East: The Human Cost of War'' took more than 200 volunteers in excess of six hours. They started at dawn, and would only begin to take down the grave markers after a rendition of Taps was played at 6 p.m., said Diane Turco, of Cape Codders for Peace and Justice.

For three months, her group, Veterans for Peace, and other volunteers found and cut the recycled wood and nailed together crosses. Their display, which has also been done by activists in California and Texas, made a breathtaking impact.

Every cross represents grief for family members, some of whom were there to speak out.

''Seamus was idealistic,'' said his father, Derek Davey, of Lowville, N.Y. ''He believed in his country and he believed he had a responsibility to serve.''

Seamus MacLean Davey, 25, died on Oct. 21, 2005, during combat in Iraq.

''We believe that responsibility goes two ways,'' his father continued. ''The civilian leaders have to use military forces wisely and not for their personal gain.''

The Daveys were opposed to the war from the beginning, but supported their son's decision to join the Marines in 1998 as soon as he graduated from high school.

After his death, they joined the Gold Star Families for Peace so that their son's death wouldn't be a total waste.

''We're pushing for everyone to vote,'' said his mother, Lorene Davey. ''I'm afraid people who are apathetic, who don't have a personal stake, won't come here to see this.''

Aseel Al Banna, an Iraqi who left the country in 1991 after experiencing two wars, knows the toll all too well.

Her parents are among about one million Iraqis who fled the violence to live in Amman, Jordan, where they are not allowed to work and yet must pay high rents in the adopted city, said Al Banna, who came as a member of Code Pink, an organization of women opposed to war.

''I don't know a single family that hasn't been affected directly,'' she said.

From her perspective, the United States has only made things worse. U.S. troops dismantled the government, disarmed the military, and now the country is ''a free for all'' for religious fanatics and violent groups with power and money, she said.

''It's already a civil war,'' she said. ''Yes, it will get worse temporarily if the U.S. pulls out. But then the Iraqis can rebuild it. It's their country. They've done it before.''

Andy Sapp, an Iraq war veteran who returned to his teaching job in Concord a year ago, couldn't agree more.

Sapp was hammering crosses into the sand yesterday.

''I was in the National Guard,'' he said. ''We had no clear vision. It was do your time, stay alive and get out.

''I am here because most veterans and those in active duty cannot speak out,'' he continued. ''There is very real pressure. Everyone who died here is my comrade in arms. This is a very real way to support the troops.''