Aftermath of Iraq War brought home

Iraq war memorial
Visitors at the memorial for fallen soldiers of the Iraq War, which was in Oak Bluffs last week. Photos by Mary Baker

By Eleni Collins - August 30, 2007

A somber exhibit was on display last week in Ocean Park, where the grass is usually strewn with relaxing families and Frisbee players. One hundred and sixty pairs of combat boots were placed in the park, each pair personally representing a New England soldier who has died in the Iraq War. Each pair of boots was accompanied with the soldier's name, rank, and hometown.

Originating in Chicago, the exhibit was created by the American Friends Service Group, a Quaker organization that has been in existence since World War I.

The exhibit began as a memorial for all American soldiers who died in Iraq, but that has since changed.

Iraq war memorial
The respective names, ranks, and hometowns of the fallen soldiers were listed on the boots.

"Now there are too many American dead for it to be feasible to carry the exhibit around the country," said Sarah Nevin, Martha's Vineyard Peace Council co-chair. "It's been broken into regions, and we had the New England exhibit here. And it will continue to be exhibited [in the U.S] as long as the war is going on."

The M.V. Peace Council sponsored last week's exhibit, "wanting to bring awareness," according to Ms. Nevin. In conjunction with peace rallies and meetings held throughout the year, the council felt this event was crucial to bring to the Island, especially to Ocean Park.

"Because it was located at the World War I, II, and Vietnam memorials in Oak Bluffs, and coincidently by the boat and bus, it was a perfect location to memorialize the New England soldiers who have died," said Ms. Nevin.

Organizers appreciated the range of visitors who came to the exhibit, as well as their reactions. "There were people who came who knew some of these fallen soldiers, and that was very moving," Ms. Nevin recalled. "There were tears, many tears."

"And then, we have at least 10 Vineyarders who are or were involved in this war, and so there were family members. One mother has two sons there, right now, if you can imagine that.

"Then there were actual soldiers who had been doing actual tours there. And some who said Americans have the completely wrong idea."

However, some passersby were not lured over to the distinctive exhibit but found themselves amongst it.

"The line to the bus was going through the boot area, and it was awkward, for them and for us," Ms. Nevin says. "All they wanted to do was get on the bus and they were standing among dead soldiers' boots."

The display remained at the park from August 21 through August 23, during which many visited, some stopping to talk with Ms. Nevin.

"I had a few angry conversations, and a couple of them turned into long conversations. Then they stayed and we had peaceful conversations, and that was really good," said Ms. Nevin.

This exhibit has been previously shown in Boston, at both Copley Square and the Boston Common, and will continue to be shown, with more boots added as soldiers die.

"In the week that we showed it, two more died so there will be two new pairs of boots," Ms. Nevin added.

The "Eyes Wide Open" exhibit had an impact on those who went to see it, and the sponsor was pleased with the amount of interest.

"We definitely had a range, the wives, children of people who are there who came and cried," said Ms. Nevin. "Mostly people were just really glad to see it and grateful."