Sgt. Michael Mitchell was only 25 years old and nearing retirement after serving seven years in the U.S. Army when he was killed in action in Sadr City, Baghdad, Iraq. The day he died was just three months before the day he planned to marry his fiancee.
Poly Greens put up more than 1,000 wooden crosses Wednesday on Mott Lawn as part of a day-long memorial called Arlington West, to honor the more than 2,000 soldiers and countless Iraqi civilians who have died in the Iraq war.
At 7 p.m. in Philips Hall Poly Greens hosted a presentation featuring four guest speakers, including Bill Mitchell, Michael Mitchell’s father and co-founder of Gold Star Families for Peace.
“I’m just one father of the more than 2,400 getting killed,” Mitchell said. “I guess I just try to share the pain a little bit.”
Steve Sherrill, the creator of Arlington West and a speaker at the event, said he got the idea for starting a memorial when he realized how easy it was to skim over the huge numbers of American soldiers being killed in Iraq while reading the paper. At the time, only 287 soldiers had been killed.
On Nov. 3, 2003, Mitchell began making crosses in his garage after he got home from work and later decided that he was going to display them on a beach in Santa Barbara. As the number of dead soldiers grew, he enlisted the help of the Santa Barbara Chapter of Veterans for Peace, of which he is now a member.
“It’s been a very powerful and moving experience for me,” Sherrill said.
Since the first display of wooden crosses, other organizations have created Arlington memorials of their own to display all over the country.
“First and foremost, it’s a memorial. Our main goal is to pay tribute to the soldiers’ sacrifice,” said David Kirk, a co-director of Poly Greens and social sciences junior.
Vanessa Mathews, also a co-director of Poly Greens and social sciences junior and emcee of the event, said the club wanted to put on the event to raise awareness and let people decide for themselves why it is important to know the number of soldiers who have died.
“We wanted to show people the true cost of war and let them decide for themselves if it’s worth the human sacrifice,” Mathews said.
Many passers-by stopped to read the names on some of the crosses and talk to the veterans who set up a table to answer questions about the memorial.
“It’s a bummer,” said history senior Tim Fox, who stopped to look at the memorial. “It’s not an issue of America and Iraq; it’s an issue of a man’s heart.”
Following Sherrill’s appearance at the evening presentation, filmmaker Mark Manning spoke about the impact of the war on Iraqi civilians and showed his 18-minute documentary “Caught in the Crossfire.” Jesse Dyan, a musician and songwriter, sang two original songs and one called “Dear Mr. President” by musician Pink.
Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK and Progressive Student Alliance were co-sponsors of the event.