Carlene Covey remembers the body bags and coffins on the newscasts during the Vietnam War, images that etched that war's human toll on her mind.
Those same images, she said, largely have gone AWOL, even as the death toll for U.S. service members in Iraq climbs toward 550.
"It made it real that people were losing their lives," the 54-year-old Olympia resident said. "Now all we get are numbers. So I wanted to do something to show how much that number is visually and make people think about the fact that on a daily basis we're losing people -- fathers, sons, mothers, daughters."
"We're not against them (U.S. soldiers); we're against them dying," said Carlene Covey of Olympia, who holds one of the 600 flags that she and other volunteers planted Monday on the Capitol Campus near the Tivoli fountain. Covey and others planted the flags to honor the 541 service members who have died since the war began in March.
(Photo - Ron Soliman/The Olympian)
On Monday, Covey and more than a dozen volunteers tightly positioned 600 small American flags to form a peace sign on the Capitol Campus to serve as that reminder. They placed several burning candles in the middle.
Many in the group, dubbed the "Loyal Opposition," are Covey's fellow employees at the Department of Information Services.
Attached to each wooden mast is a sliver of paper printed from an Internet database with a name, age, unit, service branch and date of death.
There also is another number.
Bend down to learn Cpl. Gary B. Coleman was the 508th member of the U.S.-led force killed in Iraq. He died Nov. 21 and was a 24-year-old member of Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment out of Fort Carson, Colo. The slip of paper doesn't reveal that Coleman, of Pikeville, Ky., drowned when the Humvee he was driving flipped into a canal near Balad. Or that he was just a few days removed from returning home for a two-week vacation when he died.
Organizers said the memorial to honor Coleman and his dead colleagues also serves as a silent protest for the war in which they died.
Renee Klosterman, who helped with the memorial, said these troops died a purposeful death, but she questioned whether President Bush was being honest when he laid out his rationale for war, particularly when it came to weapons of mass destruction.
"We continue to occupy a country," she said. "Why? For what purpose?"
Les Profitt, a 45-year-old Olympia resident who spent five years in the Army, said visitors also should recognize troops injured and Iraqi citizens killed during the U.S.-led invasion.
"You can focus on the 545 or whatever it is," he said. "But it's not. It's thousands."
Standing on the muddy grass, Bryce Brown of Olympia said the display gave him the same feeling as reading the names on The Wall, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Covey said she chose a national Presidents Day -- to honor the dead.
She secured a state permit to install the memorial on the Capitol grounds. The permit expired Monday evening, but Covey said she would keep the flags there as long as the state allows.
Covey bought the 600 flags on the Internet for $136.
She said she is hopeful that someone will step forward and offer a tract of land so she can make the memorial permanent and continue to recognize the service members' sacrifice.
U.S. deaths in Iraq reached 541 early today after three U.S soldiers were killed in three separate explosions.
That means dozens of flags in the memorial still bear no names, and Covey expects still more casualties.
"Those 600 flags are not the last," she said.
©2004 The Olympian