Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Tears and goosebumps.....

The process of creating the crosses went as follows: I downloaded the casualty list from and shipped to Will Chesebro. Since we couldn’t figure out how to turn the list into labels automatically, Will and his brother had to hand enter each name into the Avery label program.

Then Amanda and the little princesses of Cachagua took the sheets of labels and pasted them to the center of 3” x 12” cardstock at The Store. The process of facing each of these deaths individually began to take its toll even on the twelve year olds. So many. So young.

At the beach, Amanda and her crew took the piles of cardstock and stapled them to the survey stakes. The vineyard crew from Chesebro and Silvestri wineries laid out the grid under the direction of Mark and Brendan. A dozen or so volunteers took armfuls of crosses and placed them while others pounded them into the sand and straightened them. The crosses wound up completely randomly scattered. Oh, well…..such is volunteer labor.

I took a turn at all the jobs. Pounding in the stakes was the worst. It took five blows of a heavy mallet to sink the crosses, all the while looking at the name, age and date of death of the soldier. I tried saying Hail Mary’s with each cross…..’pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death….’ and right there in front of me was the date and hour of each poor kid’s death. After an hour it became overwhelming, and I had to work from the other side of the crosses so that I could not see the names.

The boys were ruthless. The lines had to be straight and even, despite the enthusiastic incompetence of the volunteers. The mantra was: “Do it again. Make it straight. This is someone’s life we are talking about here….This was a kid” This coming from twenty year olds. Every scrap of paper and bit of trash was policed up as we went.

The work was daunting…..the area kept growing and growing until it filled the entire 13th Street cove out to the tide line. The pile of stakes was immense and didn’t seem to shrink. When the cove was filled we were only half finished. Still, we kept up the rhythm and overflowed the lines out to each side down the beach and by 9am we were finished.

We hadn’t really looked up to see the work as a whole until then. It was stunning. I walked up the stairs to the bluff to get the overview. Wow. And everyone coming up the stairs, or walking along the path on the bluff was in tears.

The police came….but that is another story. Suffice it to say they were pissed, and helpless. The volunteers went home, and Conall, Will and I stayed to watch over things while Alex and Brendan went back to The Store to prep for Monday Night Dinner.

The only media on the beach was one reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Michael Katakis ( ) who happened to be on in Carmel on vacation. He ran back to his place and got all his gear and spent the day photographing the crosses and interviewing people. Michael spent three years photographing and interviewing visitors to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. and produced a book. He did the invaluable chore: giving perspective to the boys….and to me. Over and over he repeated: “Do you understand what you have done? You have changed the way people relate to the war. You have changed the way they relate to this beach. These ghosts will be here forever.” Eventually it sank in.

Around noon, Michael ran over to me: “You have to come check this out.” A group of young people had been walking up and down the rows for more than an hour, and were gathered around one cross. Turns out that they were vacationing from Fresno and happened upon the Memorial by chance….like everyone else. The pretty young pregnant girl had lost her brother, Lance Corporal Chad Maynard, last June and had found his cross. She was there with another brother and a cousin, both Marines. By completely random chance….or something else….his four best buddies were the crosses in the row next to him. They were all killed in the same explosion. What do you say? The young people got rocks and flowers to decorate the crosses, and raked the sand flat in the row. The young Marines carved “Semper Fi” in the sand in front of the five crosses. Try not to cry.

An hour later we noticed a huge Dolph Lungren type guy walking the rows: 6’4”, 240….pecs like slabs of granite; brush cut, board shorts. Conall went to interview him and no doing. I took a nap in the shade for an hour and when I woke up, the guy was still there walking the rows back in the back of the cove. I knew how easy it was to miss a name in all that white sand and all those white crosses, and thought we could help.

I went over to him: “Did you find your buddy?”

He gave me a completely dead look.

“All twelve.”


Blogger TANK said...

Real moving read, its funny how "fate" works out.

Wonder what Christie thought.

1:10 AM  

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