By Chelsea Hetelson
Above: The Memorial Mile visually displays the number of deaths in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq since 2003 over the three-day Memorial Day weekend.
One dozen is 12 eggs, one baker’s dozen is 13 bagels and 6,446 is a much bigger number that is much harder to visualize. But this Memorial Day weekend you’ll be able to see just how many 6,446 is — and counting.
Twelve years since the U.S. first entered the wars with Afghanistan and nine years since Mission Accomplished, conflicts and battles are still being waged and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and lives are continuing to be lost.
Gainesville’s Veterans for Peace will be displaying the more than 6,400 tombstones from dawn, May 26, through dusk on Memorial Day, May 28, on 8th Avenue just east of 34th Street along the Solar Walk to remember all those who have died in the wars in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003.
Veterans for Peace feels numbers and statistics don’t have the same impact as an actual visual representation. This is the sixth year Veterans for Peace has set up the display and it is the fourth time that the tombstones will have to line both the north and south sides of 8th Avenue due to the increased number of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We’re losing about 40 service people a month [in Iraq and Afghanistan]; that’s more than one a day,” said the president of the Gainesville Chapter Veterans for Peace Scott Camil to WUFT on May 23. “Every day a family somewhere is losing a loved one and we want people to understand that.”
Each tombstone will include the soldier’s name, date of death, age, branch of service, rank and hometown and will be arranged by date of death and by war in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Members of Veterans of Peace will be there to assist friends and families in finding the tombstone memorials of their lost loved ones with a book of the soliders’ names and the location in the display.
“Many people write messages on the tombstones,” Camil told WUFT, “and when you walk by and read the messages left by visitors, it’s very moving.”
Thousands of people come to this three-day event to remember loved ones and walk through the mile of tombstones and names.
When Veterans for Peace began the Memorial Mile in 2006, they never thought they would still be doing it today.
“There’s a problem,” said Camil, “and no one’s looking at the problem. ‘Out of sight out of mind.’ But in Gainesville, it’s not going to be out of sight.”
Visitors of the Memorial Mile can park for free at Westside Park.