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Crosses represent ‘cost of war’

Sharon SullivanVail, CO Colorado
Sharon Sullivan/Grand Junction Free Press
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GRAND JUNCTION – Four years ago when Vietnam veteran Skip Edwards was asked to speak at a peace rally in Grand Junction on the first year anniversary of the Iraq war, he thought there needed to be something visible, something concrete to make Americans more aware of the human cost of war.Edwards, a youthful 61-year-old who works in Telluride as a substitute teacher in the winter and is a Bureau of Land Management river ranger in the summer, knows first-hand how war can creep on, year after year. During part of the Vietnam War, Edwards piloted a C141 four-engine cargo transport plane delivering arms to Southeast Asia. On his return trips to the U.S., he transported caskets filled with the bodies of soldiers who had been killed. “Many times there were pallets of caskets stacked up,” Edwards said.He and his friends kicked around a few ideas of what they could do to make people more conscious of the war. They decided to make a memorial of little white crosses – one for each American soldier killed in the war. Edwards thought it was important to acknowledge the number of people dying. “The administration didn’t want to raise the ire of the American population as to how many young Americans we were losing in the war. We had to show this,” Edwards said. “The whole idea was for a one-time (display) in 2004 to show people the cost of war.”

In 2004, his friend Eric Rechel came to Crawford, Colo., where Edwards was living at the time to help him paint the first set of crosses, which at that time numbered 574. Their goal was to finish them in time for the first-year anniversary of the war and a peace rally held at Hawthorne Park that year.Edwards said a reporter asked him, “are you going to continue with this?” Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to him he might have to. He vowed then to keep making crosses for each fallen soldier until the end of the war.

Four years later, the cross exhibit has grown in size and traveled to 14 different communities in three states. The crosses have been displayed in Gunnison, Telluride and Colorado Springs, plus towns in Nevada and Montana.After their unveiling in Grand Junction in 2004, the crosses were displayed for the second time in 2004 at Elk Park in Telluride. When Edwards moved to Telluride in 2005, that community became involved in making the crosses.

Now Grand Junction residents are also helping with the repair and making of new crosses.Rechel met Edwards in Delta recently to bring back a trailer filled with boxes of the 2,811 completed crosses, and another 311 that still need to be finished. The unfinished crosses are for U.S. soldiers who died in March.Ten Grand Junction residents gathered at Rechel’s house in Orchard Mesa on Saturday to paint the remaining crosses. Next weekend the group will get together again to attach labels identifying each man and woman killed, the age, hometown, cause of death, military rank and photo, when available.On March 25, the approximately 3,200 crosses will be on display for the fourth time in Grand Junction, at Lincoln Park commemorating the fourth anniversary of the war. The display is part of a nonviolent demonstration against the fighting in Iraq.

“Our event is to acknowledge the damage done to the country by this Iraq war,” Rechel said. “We want the war to end this year.”The March 25 exhibit is sponsored by A Voice of Reason, and includes a march which begins and ends at noon at Lincoln Park, followed by a rally.


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