Saturday, October 23, 2004

From the steps of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday morning, Shannon Lampton looked at the 1,100 empty coffins placed along the Reflecting Pool to honor U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and knew her nephew has not been forgotten.

“It’s stunning to see all this,” said Mrs. Lampton, sweeping her hand across the tableau of coffins, each draped in crisp red, white and blue flags.

Mrs. Lampton had come from Melbourne, Fla., to honor her nephew, Army 1st Lt. Kenneth Michael Ballard, 26, who was killed in Najaf, Iraq, on Memorial Day. Later yesterday, she would read his name aloud, as part of a ceremony honoring every U.S. soldier who died in Iraq.

The litany would take nearly two hours, and Mrs. Lampton said it was stunning to see the “thick book of single-spaced names,” from which people read at a makeshift lectern.

“My nephew is on page 29 at the bottom,” she said. He was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery.

The tribute was organized by several activist groups known collectively as the Iraq War Memorial to Honor U.S. War Dead.

Unlike many recent events in the District concerning the war in Iraq, there were no protest banners or protesters shouting angry slogans among the thousands who came to mourn and pay their respects to the dead.

“It’s not anti-war,” said Pat Elder, 49, a Bethesda resident who helped organize the tribute. “It’s just sad, that’s all. … We’re not the radical ones. We’re just sad.”

The coffins were placed seven deep on each side of the pool and stretched about 200 yards toward the National World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument.

“It really brings home the loss,” said Mrs. Lampton, 39. “We clump them together as casualties … but they’re all somebody’s brother, nephew or husband.”

As of yesterday, 1,103 U.S. service members have died in Iraq since March 2003, according to the independent Iraq Coalition Casualty Count Web site.

“It’s as many people as I graduated from high school with,” Michael Alemar, 45, said as he looked at the coffins. “People just don’t realize what 1,100 people looks like. Here’s 1,100 people.”

Mr. Alemar, a former Air Force service member who described himself as a Quaker, said the event was “not political” or even a protest but a “demonstration of what war does.”

“This is the result of war,” he said.

Mr. Alemar also said he helped construct the cardboard coffins for the event and was there to honor the soldiers, though he does not support the war in Iraq.

Lauren McCutcheon, 23, of the District, was another volunteer who did not support the war.

Today is “not about partisan politics or any other ideology,” she said. “It’s about showing the magnitude of human loss. When it’s a few a day, I think people … don’t really see how many 1,100 is or realize that these are young, bright, well-trained men and women who are dying.”

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