Posted on Sun, Mar. 25, 2007

U.S. not waiting for war to end to honor dead
Veterans' memorials springing up across nation
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO - The names of America's war dead are etched in black marble with military precision, 46 to a column. Name, service branch, date of death in Iraq or Afghanistan -- 3,217 so far, with another 300 going up next week.

Families of dead service members come here from around the country to visit the memorial built and maintained by the Marines' Memorial Club. Resembling the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, it is one of many markers, both public and private, that have sprung up across the country to honor fallen soldiers in real time.

It took the nation seven years of recrimination and reconciliation to dedicate the Vietnam wall, but this time around, Americans aren't waiting for the shooting to stop. From beaches to bases, town squares to veterans' clubs, they are building their monuments as fast as they can, even as the wars grind on.

On a rambling stone wall in Asheville, N.C., fallen soldiers' names are engraved on rocks of varying sizes and shapes. In Santa Monica, Santa Barbara and the San Francisco suburb of Lafayette, the Iraq toll is measured in thousands of white crosses.

Vietnam remembered|

''Some of us are still young enough to remember the Vietnam War, and we see this war in Iraq as being very much the same sort of misguided adventure,'' said Ken Ashe, past president of Veterans for Peace in North Carolina, an anti-war group that helped raise funds for the Asheville monument. ''There was no hesitancy, nobody had to sit and wait to see how it played out and see how we were going to view this.''

While Vietnam looms large over this new national impulse to memorialize while lawmakers debate whether to commit more troops or set a timetable for withdrawal, the agendas behind this generation of monuments are as diverse as the memorials themselves. Rather than making a political statement, some shrines merely are meant to whisper: ''Never forget.''

Living memorial|

Officials at Fort Stewart, Ga. have planted a tree and installed a granite marker bearing a dead soldier's name to honor each member of the 3rd Infantry Division to die in Iraq, as well as those killed while attached to the division. Lining Warriors Walk are 320 trees -- about 10 percent of the total number of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq.

At Fort Bragg, N.C., the Army's Special Operations Command has engraved the names of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan on a monument honoring comrades fallen as far back as Vietnam. In Hendersonville, N.C., thousands of replica dogtags representing fallen soldiers hang from the ceiling of an art gallery.

Another factor fueling the drive to erect monuments as the casualty counts rise is that the Internet and cheap long-distance service have made fundraising easier compared to after the Vietnam War, according to Ashe.

Oregon taxpayers and private donors financed the Afghan-Iraqi Freedom Memorial, where a bronze statue of a soldier kneels, hand outstretched, toward a point unseen. A black granite wall is engraved with the names, ranks and service branches of more than 70 soldiers and Marines with Oregon ties who have died in the two conflicts.

With no end to either war in sight, the designers of the Salem, Ore., monument left most of their wall blank, so future deaths can be added.

But one grim common theme among many other shrines is that they are running out of space.

The one in San Francisco, which the Marines' club financed with more than $100,000 in private donations and is open to former and current members of all military branches, is already in the process of being expanded.

''Somebody asked me, how long is this going to go on?'' said the club's president, retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. J. Michael Myatt, as he surveyed the memorial that already takes up much of the 10th story. ''Only God knows. But we're not going to stop, even if we have to take it up to other floors, or this whole floor.''

Warriors Walk, too, is growing faster than anticipated. It runs the length of three football fields, and its second expansion encroached into the post's golf course.