In a move that some say smacks of extremism, several Colorado Springs City Council members have denied support for a war memorial that will recognize the nearly 2,700 soldiers killed in Iraq, a number that includes 169 of Fort Carson's own.
The Eyes Wide Open exhibit, created by the Quakers' American Friends Service Committee, will visit Colorado Springs on Oct. 12 and 13. The 100,000-square-foot memorial lines up pairs of black military boots with name tags, one for each soldier killed in Iraq. The exhibit has visited more than 80 cities in the past year and a half, with several city councils sanctioning the event.
"I feel like our country needs something to heal [during] the Iraq war," says Cynthia Lang, who says she is a Fort Carson veteran. "This is a living and active memorial."
Lang, along with members of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission, petitioned council at last Tuesday's meeting to designate the exhibit's short tenure "Days of Reflection on the Human Cost of War." The group asked to set up the exhibit at Memorial Park and implored council to waive parking and police fees for the event, which will cost nearly $9,000 to arrange.
While council has yet to issue an official decision, some members have already disparaged the proposal.
"No matter how you label this "memorial,' it is an attempt to further undermine our war on terrorism and to weaken our citizens' resolve to see this war through to its end," wrote Councilman Bernie Herpin last week in an e-mail to organizer Mark Lewis.
"... To attempt to place your demonstration in a park dedicated to honor those citizens and groups who have fought and died for our freedoms would be, in my opinion, disrespectful of their sacrifice and is not something that I can support or participate in," Herpin continued.
Councilman Darryl Glenn also wrote Lewis to say he would not back the memorial. In another e-mail, Mayor Lionel Rivera said that the exhibit did not appear to fit the criteria for a city-sponsored event the likes of which have included Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo and the Balloon Classic in the past few months. Neither Glenn nor Rivera returned phone calls seeking comment.
"[The response] is more extreme than we were thinking we would get," says Lewis.
He acknowledges that the exhibit's organizers are against the war. But, he says, the memorial itself though it includes Cindy Sheehan's donation of her son Casey's boots has little to do with politics. AFSC, he adds, has a strict no-protest policy for all Eyes Wide Open events.
But Herpin doesn't believe they'll abide by it.
"To me," he says, "you can't separate the sponsoring organizations from their memorial."
Council, Herpin adds, already memorialized the war when it put "Support Our Troops" yellow ribbons on city vehicles last year.
His reluctance comes about a year after Rivera caused a stir by extending and then retracting city support for a community-based initiative that provides mental health care for returning soldiers from Iraq.
If Memorial Park is unavailable, Eyes Wide Open may move to Palmer Park or Armstrong Quad at Colorado College. But Lewis hopes council will come through.
"Memorializing dead people is just [beyond] politics," he says.
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