Approximately 60 people, some of them grouped in families, gathered for a candlelight vigil last Thursday evening at La Cañada's Memorial Park. All came to mourn the 1,000 American troops dead in Iraq, which was announced by the media two days earlier, on Sept. 7.
The vigil was led by Conchita Marusich, who organized the grassroots gathering with Ellen Young. "I was watching a collage on TV of these people who are just?gone," Marusich said. "There were just too many young faces. It was horrible. I called Ellen and told her, 'We've got to do something.'"
Together, the women made phone calls and sent e-mails. Young created a banner that was draped along the park's gazebo outer wall stating, "In Memory of the 1,000 Dead Troops Killed in Iraq." The banner also featured a graph representing U.S. casualties, as well as press clippings describing the grim milestone.
Marusich opened the vigil at 8 p.m. by addressing those gathered. "We are here tonight to honor the more than 1,000 men and women in our armed forces who have died in Iraq," she said. "This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It's about soldiers, many of them only 18, 19 or 20 years old, who are gone forever."
Young said, "These were young men and women who volunteered and excelled at their jobs. Now they're dead. Dead. It's important to remember they all had families, and that they performed their duties with honor and love." As with others present, Young was firm in her support of U.S. troops but troubled by the war.
Following her opening remarks, Marusich invited vigil participants to share their thoughts.
Curt Dody attended with his family. "My heart goes out to the parents who have lost their young sons. I can't imagine losing mine," he said. "I brought my boys who are not only against this war, but in six and seven years time, will become of age for an imminent draft."
Dody's comments echoed the concerns of several parents.
"Whenever I hear a big number, I try to find something to wrap my brain around it," Scott Solis said, shaking his head. "This would represent about 100 junior soccer teams."
Helen Magid joined a number of people who expressed regret for the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians, in addition to U.S. military losses. "One thousand American casualties barely begins to speak of all the senseless death from this war," she said.
Jean Young shared a similar point of view. "I just want to keep children from both here and Iraq in our hearts and prayers," she said. "So that if they've lost family members or just been injured from walking down a street, they will know they are cared about. My cousin is a soldier, but this is about everyone."
Similarly, young children and teenagers expressed sadness over the combined U.S. and Iraqi casualties. Many wondered what life must be like for Iraqi civilian victims whose family members had been wounded or killed in the war, and said they could not comprehend the grief of never seeing a sibling or parent again.
Bob Harper was encouraged by the turnout for the unpublicized, swiftly assembled vigil. "I am amazed that so many members of our community can spontaneously come together for peace and to honor the members of our military who have been killed in Iraq," he said.
As with others who spoke, Harper's comments had a political edge. He charged that the government had "?led us under false pretenses into this war. They have tried to convince us that the loss of 1,000 American lives and billions of taxpayer dollars in Iraq is justified and will make America safer," he said. "Today our nation is more at risk than ever. We are naïve to think that the problem of terrorism will ever be solved waging this type of war."
Nancy Reaven agreed. "I am angry that we've been led into a war based on misinformation and manipulation," she said. "We've squandered an enormous amount of international good will and lost 1,000 American lives."
"I grieve for all those who have lost loved ones in Iraq," Jeff Magid said. "How many more families have to be ripped apart before we realize that this incursion is not making us safer at home and is unnecessarily putting our brave troops in harm's way?"
Marusich concluded the vigil by thanking those present for their support, and promising there would be future vigils beginning in October. "Now is the time for us to reflect whether this war is worth the toll on our country, and whether our country was drawn into Iraq through misinformation," she said. "We need a reassessment of our policies in Iraq."