"My nephew just got back from Iraq," called out a 40 ish woman with a big smile. "Three times he was there!"
During last night's candlelight vigil, this was one of the voices I heard. From her small black sedan, she expressed her concerns for the people who have lost loved ones and for the people with loved ones in Iraq. She spoke even after the signal turned green, blocking the right lane and as usual, no-one honked their horn.
And the support for the vigil from others through horn honks, waves and occasional comments continued throughout the hour.
A mid 30's couple walking two 50 pound dogs stopped to chat. "It's good to see you're still out here holding your Wednesday night vigils," he said. "But I think it will get worse before it gets better."
I thought of his comment when the L.A. Times reported this morning, "More battalions planned for Iraq." About 3500 more combat troops will be deployed, as our President stays his disastrous course, putting ever more troops in harm's way. Two more of those troops were killed yesterday bringing the total to 2,884 since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March, 2003.
Meanwhile 52 Iraqi bodies were dumped all over Baghdad yesterday, seemingly victims of death squads.
While in Ramadi, the U.S. military "killed six Iraqis, including three women, a teenage girl and an infant," as they pursued "suspected insurgents," reported the Times.
In Baqubah, four men and a 70-year-old man, his wife and daughter were killed during a joint U.S. - Iraqi raid. The Times obtained a funeral video tape which showed, "..a shattered house and dozens of wailing villagers gathered around a bloody stain on the ground. One man held a bloody purse. Another showed spent shells he said had been fired by U.S. troops."
"It is always unfortunate when civilians are hurt or killed during operations to rid Iraq of terrorism," said the U.S. military statement. "Terrorists do not hesitate to deliberately place innocent Iraqi women and children in danger by their actions and presence." I doubt that this statement comforted the families of the Iraqis who were killed or the villagers who witnessed it.
As for last night's vigil, the most memorable aspect for me was looking into the eyes of so many people whose heads turned to read the sign. Although they didn't wave, honk or comment, I could see they had been touched by the message on behalf of all those who have paid so severe a price.
What a wonderful feeling it was to see the response from last night's candlelight vigil.
Many people opened their hearts to express their support through their waves, their horn honks and through their words and kind gestures. Here's a sampling:
One couple in their mid-30's came to talk. He had shoulder length blond hair, she had shoulder length brown hair and both expressed their concerns for the U.S. soldiers and their families. She said, "I was out there 3-years ago protesting the war." And he quickly added, "Guys in pickup trucks used to yell F-You to her. Now who was right!"
They both thanked me and he said, "I hope you don't need to be out here next year." I concurred but told him I believe it's highly likely I will. I commended her for her prior activism and urged her to get back on the street where she is needed.
Moments later, a 25 ish couple in a small black pickup truck pulled up. She had shoulder length blond hair and he a short military style haircut. Their smile was so bright it warmed the cool crisp night air. "We're going to Starbucks to get some coffee," she said. "Can we bring back some to you?"
I smiled and thanked them but declined their kind offer. They thanked me for what I was doing and she said, "May God Bless." Her words were not meant for me but meant for the people who have paid so severe a price in Iraq, and I share her feelings. It is for them that I am out there.
A bit later, two women, one 45 ish, short and trim with short brown hair and the other 25 ish, tall and trim with shoulder length brown hair came to speak. "I saw you last week from my car," said the older woman. "I have a 23-year old son and when I come home I hate to think of him carried back in a body [bag]."
The older woman referred to herself as "an activist," and she spoke of possible solutions to the war in Iraq. Both ladies thanked me for being out there and the older woman added, "I know I'm preaching to the choir. But you have to preach to the choir or they might stop singing."
I assured her this choir won't stop singing. But I told them how nice it is to have people like the two of them stop by to express their support.
And now as I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude to you for reading these vigil summaries and to tell you your kind words of support are appreciated.
Last night's candlelight vigil touched a lot of people on behalf of an outstanding cause. It was the best response yet.
As I was setting up, the waves of support began, which included a bus driver who blasted his horn several times and waved enthusiastically. And the waves, the horn honks, the flash of headlines, etc. continued.
One of the most touching moments came when a gray haired 55 ish man, tall and trim, walking a 30 pound brown dog, stopped and read the sign. For the next 30 seconds he just stood silent. Then in a soft voice he said, "I lost a nephew there, April 16, 2003." And then without another word, he stared wistfully into the distance and slowly walked away.
An instant later, two 25 ish young men in a black pickup truck called to me. "I lost a lot of friends there," yelled one. And lowering his voice he added, "We can't let them be forgotten. Thank you." He explained that he'd served in the Navy and the loss of these American soldiers was very painful to him. And then he said, "We have to make this a better world."
A while later I got a wonderful surprise. It was a 10 minute visit from my youngest son Clayton who arrived carrying his 19-month-old son Cameron. With a big smile Cameron began pointing at and waving to drivers, some of whom smiled and waved back to him or simply ooohed and aaahed.
Meanwhile Clayton, who is a Doctor told me of an intern he knows who will be discharged from the Navy at year end after having been on active duty for five years.
This intern served in Afghanistan and elsewhere and had been at the forefront of the war "with a forward Marine unit in Iraq for several months. They were some of the most amazing people he ever met. Very proud to be with them, they are so brave."
This intern also told Clayton, "The U.S. Army is the greatest humanitarian medical organization in the world. They vaccinated tens of thousands of Iraqi children and were often the primary care providers for the Iraqi people they encountered."
Later, when the candle light vigil was over, as I was putting everything in the car, a 30 ish blond woman in a large SUV pulled over to talk. She said, "I've seen your sign but the traffic is so heavy, I never got to read (the whole thing)."
When I shared the sign with her, she thanked me for doing this and she added, "To think I can ride around in my car and do anything I want because our soldiers serve is incredible. I'm going to cry." And as she fought back tears, I shook her hand and then watched her drive off. It was a heart-warming way to end this candlelight vigil.
Last night was the strongest public response I've seen in 43 prior candlelight vigils.
Perhaps it was the election coverage, maybe it was the unending horrific news from Iraq, but whatever it was, the sign's message:
"My candle is lit in memory of all who have died or been seriously wounded in the war in Iraq. It is also lit in consideration of the pain and loss felt by their families" touched large numbers of people.
There were horn honks, waves, peace signs, head nods and people shouting support from their cars. A 60 ish blond-gray curly haired lady in an SUV even blew kisses.
One early 30's woman who I met months ago, was carrying her baby daughter and stopped to talk. She told me she served 10 years in the Army but has resigned her commission. She said her 33 year old brother is in the Army serving his third deployment in Iraq.
She then thanked me for displaying the sign and expressed her pleasure that Donald Rumsfeld resigned as Secretary of Defense. She called it "a start" in changing the U.S. actions in Iraq.
Another pedestrian, a high-energy middle-aged man in superb physical condition, also stopped to talk. He had just helped a man with cerebral palsy "run" the New York City Marathon last Sunday. Among other comments, he praised the candlelight vigil and said more people "need to do this."
Then there was a man in his early 20's, sitting in his small sedan waiting for the signal to change. He became so emotional about the message on the sign, he asked when I will do this again and asked if he could participate. I told him he was welcome.
While I don't expect him back, his response was indicative of the caring people expressed.
On such an evening, it was reassuring that a lot of people do hold in their hearts, those who have paid so severe a price, including their families. It was a lovely show of humanity.
As I summarize last night's candlelight vigil, a gray fog has shrouded the Los Angeles coast and for the first time, my candle is lit not in the night but now as it glows on the corner of my desk.
It is my hope that the flicker of this candle will illuminate my thoughts and indirectly, the thoughts of each of you who reads this summary, for I welcome your comments.
Last night the cold breeze whipped off the ocean a few hundred yards away and chilled everything in its path. Passersby were bundled to stay warm and drivers were glad for the warmth of their cars.
From the sidewalk alongside the rush hour traffic, I displayed my sign: "My candle is lit in memory of all who have died or been seriously wounded in the war in Iraq. It is also lit in consideration of the pain and loss felt by their families." In the wind, keeping my candle lit was difficult.
As I stared into the black abyss punctuated by hundreds of little white headlight beams and the echoing roar of traffic, I heard everything from "Thank you for reminding us," shouted by a 35 ish man from his white SUV to "I keep telling you, [mourn the dead] after the war is over. Go home, go home, go home," bellowed from a large old car by the boisterous heavy set 60 ish man who confronted me a few weeks ago.
There were horn honks and waves, and some people flashed their headlights. But to the vast majority, I was just a momentary distraction, a curiosity not worth acknowledging.
And I asked myself, "Does my presence out here make a difference?" "Why be here? Is it for me as I hurt inside for the people who have lost so much and bear such pain? Am I helping them, few of whom know I'm here? Do I influence passersby as I had hoped, to keep these people in their hearts?"
Nearly everyone encourages me to continue these vigils but no-one else gives their time to do it. And they have no idea what the mental preparation is like or the necessity to absorb the anguish of others.
I have nothing to sell, no profit to gain. I care deeply for humanity and in the face of madness, one atrocity begets the next. I think of Amy Branham whose son was a brave soldier killed in Iraq and I think of Pat Alviso, whose courageous son serves in Iraq. And in my heart I say to them, "Amy and Pat, I'm sorry for the pain you endure and I'm thankful you both lovingly raise your voices in peace."
Perhaps I'm ineffective in my appeal and maybe there is a better way. If so, I welcome learning of it. I've also spoken with religious leaders and with the former head of the Southern California ACLU but was unsuccessful in getting them to take action.
Aside from that, I have written editorial letters Mike Carroll of The Daily Breeze (circulation 70,000) has published and I plan to launch a new website, "Ramblings of a Sane Man" late this year or early next year, to take the message of peace to a wider audience.
As I conclude this summary, the sun is burning through the mist and its shine is beginning to warm everything in its path, including me. And as you can imagine, I'll be back out there next Wednesday evening, candle in hand.
Last night's candle light vigil got off to a fast start when as I took the vigil materials out of my car a bus driver 25 yards away on Pacific Coast Highway began honking his horn and waving.
He knew about the vigil and wanted to enthusiastically add his support.
And that set the tone, for there were plenty of horn honks and waves and some kind words in support of the vigil. Perhaps more than ever before.
But the vast majority of drivers zipped by, visibly unaffected by the vigil and showing no interest in those who paid the ultimate price in Iraq or for their grieving families.
"Thank you for doing this," said a 40 ish man with close cropped brown hair, in a green SUV. Then he added, "It seems like nobody cares. They care more about the week-end football scores."
As I thought about what he said, a Reuters picture from Sunday came to mind.
It was a photo of a 40 ish man with short black hair. He was so thin, his body couldn't fill out the open collar white dress shirt he wore.
Near Baghdad, he and his son, about 8 years old had been on a father-son Saturday outing like any here in America when suddenly there was an explosion of gunfire between the police and gunmen. The son was caught in the cross-fire.
The picture was taken next to a hospital morgue where the boy laid dead on a blood spattered white sheet. His little face, his left arm and his red and black T-shirt were covered in blood.
The father on his knees knelt over the boy, with his left fingers touching his son's forehead as his right fingers caressed the child's right cheek. The heart-broken father was sobbing.
One moment they were having a good time and in the next, his son died in a hale of bullets. Now there's nothing he can do about it. For the rest of his life, the father will be consumed with guilt thinking what he might have done to prevent this disaster from happening to his loving, trusting young son.
Soon the boy's mother would hear the tragic news and begin screaming hysterically. By now she has cried a river of tears, hit with a loss so painful, she will never fully recover from it. Nor will the family.
When 7 pm came I tried to blow out the candle but the flame continued to burn. I thought of the deep sadness absorbing this family and in their honor I continued the vigil for 20 minutes more.
I want to thank readers for their support of my weekly candlelight vigils held in memory of all who paid so severe a price in the war in Iraq. Whether they express that support with their waves, horn honks or in kind words, it is appreciated.
For those who may not be aware, nearly every Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Palos Verdes Boulevard in Torrance, I light a candle and display a sign that reads: "My candle is lit in memory of all who have died or been seriously wounded in the war in Iraq. It is also lit in consideration of the pain and loss felt by their families."
The 40th vigil will be held Wednesday.
To some, I may look like a crazy man because I'm doing what so few others are doing. I'm often asked why I'm out there. I'm out there because I don't want the Iraq War dead to be forgotten or their lives lost in vain. I'm out there for families who buried their children, which will tear the heart out of almost any parent.
And many of you in your support of the vigil have shown that you feel the same way.
Another question I'm frequently asked is how I feel about the war in Iraq. To answer it, I'd like to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he spoke of the war in Vietnam during a Christmas Eve address in 1967:
"... President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means."
In Iraq, as in Vietnam, the U.S. policy is that brutality will lead to peace. Instead, it begets more brutality. I believe in the sacredness of human life, and what is happening in Iraq is almost unbearable to me. If you come with a kind and loving heart, please feel welcome to join me during the vigil as we remember the victims of that brutality.
Shortly after last night's candle light vigil began, a 22 ish young man with dark curly hair sticking out from under a blue baseball cap and driving a small gray station wagon, wanted to talk. He had been deployed in Iraq by the U.S. Army and he showed me the scar of a bullet wound in his left forearm.
He came home eight months ago but as we spoke he started getting choked up and thanked me for doing the vigil.
Later, a trim 45 ish woman with blond hair in a tight bun and walking two 60 pound dogs ignored my smile and 'Good Evening' greeting. She turned her head away from me and quickly walked by.
Just then, I heard someone call to me from his car. It was a young man with close cropped brown hair in his latter 20's wearing military fatigues. He said, "Don't worry sir. There are a lot of civilians who just don't get it." This polite, self-assured young man then expressed his gratitude for the vigil.
During the vigil, as my candle glowed, I thought about Army Sgt. Luis Montes, 22 years old. Near Baghdad, a bomb blew up under his three person tank which exploded in flames. With his body ablaze, Sgt. Montes scrambled out of the burning vehicle but his men were trapped inside.
He quickly went back in to the tank and successfully freed them. And he refused to be helicoptered out until he knew they were safe. One man lost a leg and the other had burns over 20% of his body, but both survived. Unfortunately Sgt. Montes did not.
The Army awarded him a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and presented them to his mother. With an aching heart, she told the Los Angeles Times (10/1/06), "I didn't want a hero. I didn't want medals. I wanted a son."
This morning in the Washington Post online was the headline, "13 U.S. troops killed in Baghdad in the last 3 days." The story said 24 U.S. troops have been killed since Saturday. If these soldiers had the courage and the character of Sgt. Montes, the cost of this loss to humanity was priceless.
Early in last night's candle light vigil, a 25ish Frenchman, 6 ft tall, perhaps 150 lbs, with short curly black hair read the sign and wanted to talk.
In his limited English, he explained that it's one thing to dispose of Saddam Hussein but another to bomb the people of Iraq. He also expressed his concern that the U.S. might soon attack the people of Syria. Without comment, I thanked him for expressing his opinion and shook his hand.
Later a 50 ish man a bit taller than the Frenchman, but also trim, studied the sign. "I agree with the message on your sign," he said. And then his face tensed and his body turned rigid and he added, "I despise the government we have in power now." He slowly walked off, looking back at the sign.
As my candle burned, I thought of Army Pfc. Hannah McKinney, 20 years old. After she gave birth to a son, she thought the Army would never send her to Iraq. She was wrong.
In November, she was deployed to Iraq, leaving her one year old baby boy with her family. On September 4th, she left a guard tower to use the rest room when she was hit by a Humvee.
The Humvee sped off, leaving her severely injured, laying in the dark on the edge of the road. Nearly two hours later a tank crew saw her and rushed her to the hospital, where soon after arriving, she was pronounced dead.
Her husband, Chris McKinney, 21 years old, also a private first class told the Los Angeles Times (9/24/06) the Humvee driver had been drunk at the time of the accident and was now in custody, awaiting disciplinary action.
But last night, thousands of miles from Iraq, I stood on my little corner of Pacific Coast Highway, watching the traffic race by, as heads turned to look at the sign.
Whether they acknowledged the sign with a wave or a horn honk or simply drove on, the vigil accomplished the goal if even for a moment, of not letting those who have paid so severe a price as Hannah McKinney, and the families who grieve them, be forgotten.
As I was about to start last night's candle light vigil, a 30 ish woman with long blond hair, walking a medium sized black dog, approached me. Right behind this woman was her mother, 60 ish.
The young woman said, "I've been trying to get your attention for the longest time." She told me how "meaningful" the message on my sign is to her. After speaking with the ladies for a few minutes, I thanked them for their support.
This was a lovely way to begin a candle light vigil that may have brought more waves and horn honks than any other to date. And two drivers added, "God Bless you."
Those responding are a small minority of the drivers but clearly there are many people who care about the people who've paid such a severe price in Iraq.
For the next part of this story, picture me holding an 8 inch glass cylinder containing a burning white candle, as I stand along side Pacific Coast Highway, a street filled with rush hour traffic.
In front of me is a sign that reads, "My candle is lit in memory of all who have died or been seriously wounded in the war in Iraq. It is also lit in consideration of the pain and loss felt by their families."
Late in the vigil, a bald 60ish man in an old gray sedan pulled up and gruffly asked, "Did you serve in the war?" I replied, "I did not." He bellowed, "Then support our troops!" I said, "I do support our troops." As he pulled out, he yelled to me, "It doesn't look like it!"
This man, about 6 ft, 1 and about 220 pounds parked his car and approached me to emphatically make his points. Which among others were: "[Your sign] should say, 'Support our troops!' You should be supporting President Bush! You are undermining the war effort!"
I realized he was on an angry rant and not interested in what I had to say or what my sign expressed. But I interrupted him to ask, "Did you serve in the military?" He hollered, "No I didn't. But I should have served in Vietnam!"
He then barked, "People think you're crazy." I said, "Perhaps, but this is my 36th vigil and you're the first one who has expressed these opinions." [Which is not to say others don't share his opinions, including the one about my sanity.]
He then continued his rant which included, "This is a war for our survival!" and "The time to mourn our troops is after the war, not during it!" I told him I interviewed two of the mothers who have lost sons in Iraq and The Daily Breeze published one of those interviews.
He finished by shouting, "I have no more time for you!" and stomped off in a huff.
The families who've paid such a severe price in Iraq are not waiting until the end of the war to mourn their loved ones. And by these vigils, neither am I.