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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crosses in New York Times - October 2010


The Crosses of Lafayette project was started almost four years ago by Jeff Heaton, a local building contractor, to recognize American service members who were killed in Iraq. The white markers of the antiwar site dot the hillside and are easily viewed from Highway 24. Read more in the New York Times.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Iraq War - 6th Anniversary

Photo by John Eaton

The Contra Costa Times reported on the Lafayette Crosses Memorial.
As Iraq war continues, Lafayette Crosses becoming part of the landscape
By Paul Thissen
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 03/19/2009 06:05:28 PM PDT

The steep path of steps is worn into the dirt of the Lafayette hillside, meandering between thousands of white wooden crosses.

It was not there when Jeff Heaton started pounding the crosses into the ground in November 2006 to symbolize the American troops killed in Iraq.

That was one of the bloodiest periods of the war. The crosses sparked protests, against the war and against the monument itself. They attracted vandals. A battle was fought before the City Council about whether they should stay.

Now, as violence has waned, vocal debates have subsided.

The crosses become part of the consciousness of thousands of commuters who see them from BART or drive past them on Highway 24 each day. Traffic
reporters use them as a landmark. They are known far and wide; people from other regions who meet Lafayette's city manager say, "Oh, that's the town with the crosses."

"I think that they're really part of our community now," said Louise Clark, the 83-year-old Lafayette resident who owns the hillside. "Now I want the acceptance to turn into a concern about why they're there."

On Thursday, the sixth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq, organizers held a vigil at the crosses, a few months after President Barack Obama was elected in part on a campaign promise to withdraw troops from Iraq.

New crosses are still being put in twice a month.

While Obama is set to withdraw troops from Iraq, he has also said that he will increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. Crosses organizers decided last year to add crosses for troops killed in Afghanistan, as well, bringing the total to more than 4,000.

"I'm hoping that we don't have to have any more crosses up there, but so far that has not happened," Clark said.

Heaton sees Afghanistan and Iraq as two parts of the same war, helping ensure that the monument will endure, he said. But the wooden crosses will not last forever, and the memorial's form
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"I have many visions of it maybe being a memorial garden where many artists donate their own vision of a memorial to the soldiers who have sacrificed," he said.

Jim Minder sees the display differently — as an insult to soldiers and their families.

He is the co-founder of the Lafayette Flag Brigade, which welcomes soldiers arriving home. The group protested the creation of the crosses; Minder calls it a "mock monument" because those who created it oppose the war.

"You've got to look at the people," he said. "They're against every war. They don't pick good or bad wars."

The vocal protests have stopped, Minder said, because the city is committed to letting the crosses stay, he said.

City officials required cross organizers to shrink the sign displaying the number of troops killed in Iraq. The City Council also changed city law to limit the number of signs on a parcel, so a new display like the crosses would be illegal. Since the crosses were already there, the new law did not affect them.

The city continued to receive letters and phone calls about the crosses after the council debates were done, City Manager Steve Falk said. "The call volume peaked both when the council was in the middle of making the land-use decisions and when the war was at its most controversial."

Now they have trickled off to nearly nothing, he said.

Most military families still oppose the monument, Minder said. Those who like it, he added, should consider the antiwar views of those who created it.

Heaton disagrees.

Military families are some of the people who appreciate the monument most, he said.

"It's become a really legitimate memorial," Heaton said. "People come by and express a lot of gratitude that they have something like this to visit and look at."

Sometimes those people are veterans, he said, and they are often the most grateful.

In the long run, Minder's fear for the crosses resembles Heaton's hope.

"One thing can start out as a mock memorial and it can turn into a real memorial," Minder said. "That's what I was worried about."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Full Moon - November 13, 2008

Tending an Orchard of Grief


From the Los Angeles Times
ON CALIFORNIA: ESSAYS FROM THE GOLDEN STATE
Tending an orchard of grief
'The Crosses of Lafayette,' planted on an East Bay hillside for U.S. war dead, evoke gratitude, fury and resignation.
By Peter H. King

November 10, 2008

Reporting from Lafayette, Calif. — As they emerge from a tunnel cut beneath the Berkeley Hills, Bay Area Rapid Transit trains hauling eastbound commuters home from San Francisco enter a landscape of low hills and tight valleys, shaded by oaks and pines and filled with winding blocks of well-maintained houses.

It is a pleasant enough slice of California, this cluster of small, leafy communities in Contra Costa County, a place where youth sports dominate weekends and school fundraisers tend to succeed; where one of the latest civic initiatives was a vigorous campaign to persuade motorists to slow down.

A few miles down the line, the trains pull in to the elevated station that serves the town of Lafayette. It is at this point that passengers are confronted with a sight that seems jarringly out of place with the pastoral suburban tableau -- a hillside covered with white crosses.

There are thousands of them, each about 3 feet high, scattered from the sidewalk of Deer Hill Road to the brow of the low, broad hill. "In Memory of Our Troops," proclaims a large billboard, halfway up the hill.

In large block numerals, easily seen by BART passengers and motorists on Highway 24, which runs parallel to the tracks, the sign also keeps count of the number of U.S. service members who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the start "The Crosses of Lafayette," as the volunteers who maintain the display call it, has provoked a wide and evolving set of emotions.

"It is a shrine for some people, and it is a protest for other people," said Louise Clark, an 83-year-old widow and longtime Lafayette resident who allowed this arresting orchard to be planted on her land.

Two years ago, when the project began in earnest, there was outrage from those who saw the effort not only as an antiwar protest but as one that mocked the price paid by U.S. war dead. In one publicized incident, a former U.S. Marine tore down the sign: "My first reaction," she explained, "was 'What a disgrace to those who have sacrificed.' "

Over time, though, these counter-demonstrations died down. The crosses almost seem to have settled into the landscape, attracting a mix of curious passersby, peace activists, veterans of other wars -- some supportive, others upset -- and friends, families and war comrades of the fallen.

More than a few families have adopted individual crosses, inscribing on them the names of their deceased and decorating them with photographs, flowers, poems, stuffed animals and other trinkets.

Karen Meredith is one. Her only son, Lt. Ken Ballard, a 26-year-old Army tank commander, was killed in 2004. When she heard about the crosses, she recalled, "I was very happy about it, and I could not understand why people would find this offensive. If children are dying in their names, they should understand it and see it every day."

None of this is to suggest that the display has won universal acceptance. "A lot of people around here don't like it," said 51-year-old Neil Kelly, "but they put up with it." He and other volunteers, who gather every other Sunday to plant crosses, repair old ones and groom the hill, still endure sporadic taunts and middle-finger salutes from passing motorists.

"I can see their point," said Clark, the property owner. "It upsets them to drive by and see all those crosses. Well, it upsets me, too. But that is what happened; it's real. Each cross represents someone who has died over there."

The force behind the project is Jeff Heaton, a 55-year-old construction contractor. His parents were close friends of Clark and her husband, who died a year ago. Heaton approached the Clarks in spring 2003, during the early "shock and awe" phase of the Iraq invasion. He received their permission to plant 19 crosses. These were ripped out the first night. He replanted, but with the same result.

"I was disheartened," he said.

More than three years passed before he was persuaded to try again -- by then, the body count was nearing 3,000. In November 2006, with help from assorted peace organizations, Heaton resumed planting crosses, beginning with an initial batch of about 300.

This quickly led to a noisy showdown at City Hall, where opponents of the project failed to persuade the city to step in and abort the project. The city's position was that the crosses were signs and, being less than 4 feet tall, fell under what City Manager Steven B. Falk called "the Realtor's exemption" -- an ordinance meant to facilitate the placement of residential "for sale" signs.

"Our entire analysis was content-free," Falk said.

That did not translate into controversy-free. After the council's unanimous decision to allow the cross project, City Hall was flooded with protest calls and letters. Falk keeps one tacked to his office wall: "You sir," it proclaims, "are un-American and spit on the real graves of our brave soldiers, who have died to defend your right to make a fool of yourself and bring shame on your city in the process."

Such letters, Falk said, have since "tapered off to zero."

Heaton, too, took heat early on. He stood toe to toe with a father who objected to his son's name being placed on a cross. After that confrontation, it was decided that names would be posted only when families requested it. Heaton also removed any signs he considered overtly political, including one that proclaimed the hillside to be "Bush's Garden."

A soft-spoken man and rail-thin, Heaton chooses words with care as he discusses the crosses. Asked if he considered them a war protest or a memorial to the fallen, he paused a few beats before answering.

"It is difficult," he said finally, "to divide that out. I consider it a peace memorial. The point is to sort of in a neutral way show the true impact or effects of the war so that people can work that through in their own way."

He said he's not sure how long the crosses will stay up. That will depend, he said, on the course of the war. Even with a new administration to take command shortly, he's not convinced the conflict, especially in Afghanistan, will wind down soon.

"This could go on for a very long time," he said. "Unfortunately."

As Heaton spoke, volunteers were preparing to plant new crosses made of plastic foam, instead of wood -- an adjustment meant to make the hillside less prone to fire as it grows more congested. A few months ago, the organizers decided to add Afghanistan casualties, creating considerable catch-up work for the cross-makers.

"We are about 600 behind," said Craig Cataline, a 54-year-old carpenter.

This was a few days after the usual Sunday work party. Cataline had come alone to the hillside to perform a particular chore. The father of a Navy medic who has seen combat in Iraq and whose best friend is represented by one of the crosses, Cataline each week updates the sign's death count, which stood at 4,801.

The stocky man followed a well-worn footpath up the hill, carrying a portable screwdriver in one hand and two replacement numerals in the other. As he reached the sign, he stood on the slope and surveyed the forest of crosses.

"I originally saw this as a protest," he said, "but in my own mind I didn't want these kids to be forgotten. Whether you believe the war is folly or not, these poor kids gave their lives for America."

As he spoke, morning traffic hummed by on Highway 24, and a westbound train pulled into the Lafayette station, loaded with commuters bound for jobs in the city.

Cataline extracted several long, wooden screws. He slid out panels that contained a "0" and a "1," replacing them with a "2" and a "4." The number on the sign was now 4,824 -- the total had grown by 23. He reinserted the screws.

"That's it," he said. "That's what I do."

The task had taken him all of three minutes, but the implications . . .

King is a Times staff writer.

peter.king@latimes.com

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Click to enlarge

Memorial Day 2008 at The Crosses of Lafayette. The sign reads 4084 - the number of U.S. Troops killed in Iraq up to that date.

Tony Thurmond

Tony Thurmond is running for California State Assembly. He is endorsed by George Miller and by the Contra Costa Times. Tony spoke at the Memorial Day vigil at the Lafayette Crosses.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Crosses of Lafayette: 4065

Click to enlarge
Photo by Colette Swim-Headley, May 13, 2008

Cross posted on Eschew Obfuscation.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Memorial Day Vigil

Memorial Day Vigil

Monday, May 26, 2008 7:15PM

We will gather to honor those who have lost their lives in this immoral war, grieve the continued violence and destruction in the region.

PLACE: Crosses of Lafayette

Corner of Deer Hill and Oak Hill Road. Across from Lafayette BART

DIRECTIONS: From Oakland/ Berkeley: Take the 24 to the Oak Hill Road exit. Turn left. Turn left again on Deer Hill. You will soon see crosses site on your right. From Concord/ Walnut Creek: Take 24 to Central Lafayette exit. Turn left on Deer Hill Road. You will soon see crosses on your right. BART parking lot is on your left. Or take BART.

Please no candles


Please use crosswalks

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