STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — May 29, 2010. On Saturday, May 29th, Staten Island was home to two exhibits memorializing both soldiers and civlians lost to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a borough where the Memorial Day weekend typically means cookouts and parades, for the past couple of years at Midland Beach it has come to mean so much more. On this weekend, a stretch of sand bordered by a boardwalk and a fishing pier was converted into the sea of crosses, crescents, Stars of David and other religious symbols of faith known as Arlington New York State (ANYS). The ANYS exhibit is a memorial to US military personnel from New York state killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The yearly beach event it is usually done in conjunction with the American Friends Service Committee’s “Eyes Wide Open” display, which is a collection of military boots and civilian shoes tagged with the name of victims.
This year, the two displays were joined by the Iraq Memorial to Life – an exhibit in remembrance of the 1.4 million Iraqi civilians killed since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Iraq Memorial consists of thousands of name placards. Some depict Iraqi names. Others are marked simply as “Unknown” – symbolic of the difficulty of documenting the names of deceased civilians during wartime. Austere yet powerful in presentation, it is a poignant reminder of the tragic cost of war on innocent civilian populations.
As this Memorial Day unfolded, some visitors walked through the exhibits, reading the names and reflecting on the dead. Some lingered on the boardwalk, asking questions of organizers and sharing their thoughts. Others sat quietly and witnessed the exhibits for hours, as if in stunned disbelief. Shaking his head, one such visitor was overhead saying, “I’ll never understand it. What a shame.”
Speakers at the midday press conference included Douglas Mackey from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, City Council member Debi Rose, Salam Talib, an Iraqi journalist and computer engineer who lost his brother in the invasion, Pat Berg from Peace Action Staten Island, local Muslim community organizer Hesham El-Meligy, Elaine Brower from Military Families Speak Out – NYC and MDS Staten Island, activist and Vietnam veteran Bill Johnson, and members of Veterans for Peace. Mackey spoke of the importance of the two exhibits and mission statement of the Iraq Memorial; “because no idea, ideal, or philosophy is superior to a single human life”. Several touched on the need to do all we can to see to it that “we don’t have to do this again next year”.
As Hesham El-Meligy said in his speech; “These soldiers did not want to go to war; they wanted to go to college. They did not want to invade other countries; they wanted to defend their country. These civilians did not want to die in war; they wanted to go to work. They did not want to be bombed; they wanted to feed their families. If these soldiers could speak, they would ask, why? Why did you send us to harm’s way over lies? Why did you make us leave our loved ones to go and kill other’s loved ones?”
A true coalition effort, this years beach exhibition was sponsored by Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS), Military Families Speak Out – NYC, Fellowship of Reconciliation – USA, Peace Action of Staten Island, Veterans for Peace and the American Friends Service Committee.