By Tom Lochner, MediaNews. January 9, 2007

Creators of a hillside monument of crosses outside the Lafayette BART station began to put names on them Sunday while supporters, including mothers of fallen soldiers in Iraq, turned the gathering into an impromptu memorial service for the war dead.

“This memorial is a sacred place,” said Nadia McCaffrey of Tracy, the mother of Army Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, killed in Balad on June 22, 2004. “Each one of those crosses has a name.”

“These crosses give their lives and their deaths meaning,” said Karen Meredith of Mountain View, mother of Army Lt. Ken Ballard, killed in Najaf on May 30, 2004.

“There was a life and a future behind every one of these crosses,” said Dolores Kesterson of SantaCruz, mother of Army Chief Warrant Officer Eric Kesterson, killed in Mosul on Nov. 15, 2003.

Added Meredith, “These crosses say, ‘We will not be silent.'”

Meredith and McCaffrey are members of Gold Star Families Speak Out, a chapter of the national organization Military Families Speak Out, which opposes the war.

They and Kesterson joined volunteers from Lamorinda Peace Group and Mount Diablo Peace and Justice Center, who added another 185 crosses to the growing monument Sunday. That brings the total to about 1,200, including a few superimposed with the Jewish Star of David or the Islamic crescent.

The volunteers, who put up the simple wood crosses every Sunday, hope to bring the pace up to more than 200 per week until there is one for each of the more than
3,000 U.S. troops killed in the war, said organizer Jeff Heaton.

As of Sunday, at least 3,011 members of the U.S. military had died since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the Associated Press.

The three mothers, joined by Sharon Lee Kufeldt, national vice president of Veterans For Peace, and Meredith’s sisters, Cathy Patton and Michel Meredith, took turns reading the names of the 307 California troops known to have died in the Iraq war as of Sunday.

Meredith read the Archibald MacLeish 1945 poem, “The Young Dead Soldiers (do not speak).” In an interview later, she unequivocally rejected a “surge” in the U.S. troop level that President Bush is expected to announce this week.

“Get them out now,” she said, adding that “now” does not mean in several months, as some members of Congress propose, but “midnight tonight.”

She rejects the argument that the United States must continue the war to validate the sacrifice of those who already died and the pain of their survivors.

“You want how many other families to go through this bereavement journey that we’re on?” she asked rhetorically. “You want more people to die to make sure that your loved one didn’t die in vain? How many?”

Former Marine Lance Cpl. Motecuzoma Sanchez of Stockton, who took part in the initial invasion of Iraq and today denounces the war as based on “a lie,” said the monument “represents people that I knew, people I was friends with” and later read his own poem, “Forgotten Hero.”

Noting that he has a young son and daughter now, he wondered, “Who would have been their father if I had been killed?

“I look at these crosses and in a surreal way, I say, that could have been me,” Sanchez said. “I would have died in vain. Because this war should never have happened.”

Reach Tom Lochner at (510) 262-2760 or [email protected]