Activists use 4,000 white flags to show human toll of Iraq war

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Linda Englund placed flowers beside a small white flag commemorating a soldier killed in Iraq, knowing it could have been her son who became a casualty of war.

The marker was among 4,000 white flags placed along the city’s waterfront Monday as peace activists remembered the deaths of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians on the war’s fourth anniversary.

Englund was among the volunteers who erected long rows of flags that covered much of the Great Lawn at Waterfront Park. Toys were placed next to flags representing Iraqi children killed in the war. Flags honoring American soldiers listed their ages, ranks and home states but not their names.

Englund said she especially became emotional when putting the flowers at the flag honoring her son’s best friend, who was killed in combat in 2004. Her son was standing next to him when he was shot.

“I always feel like another foot, it would have been my son,” she said.

Englund’s son, 24-year-old Army Sgt. John Englund, was wounded twice in Iraq. His unit has returned to Iraq, but he is stationed in Germany because his wife is ill, Englund said.

Last week, another of her son’s friends was killed in action, she said.

Gazing at the fluttering flags, Englund said she thought about what the soldiers “would have done with their lives. They were all courageous in doing what they thought was right or what was asked of them.”

The memorial, organized by the Louisville Peace Action Community, was among events staged by war critics in cities across the country in recent days.

The war has claimed the lives of more than 3,200 members of the U.S. military. Iraqi civilian deaths are estimated at more than 54,000, possibly much higher.

James McMillin, who helped put together the Louisville event, said it was not meant as a protest but to “help people understand the vast losses that we’ve suffered.”

Volunteer Liz Goldy, a college student, arrived at 6 a.m. to help put out the flags representing war dead. She said she hopes American soldiers are brought home soon.

“I feel like the American people are crying out for something to happen to bring our soldiers home,” she said. “You have to let your voice be heard. And I think this is one way to do that, raising awareness about the impact of this war.”

Brian Duffy, state commander of the VFW and a Gulf War veteran, said the group should have picked a different symbol. “A white flag to me means just one thing _ surrender,” he said.

The event’s organizers said they chose white because it’s the color of crosses and tombstones put up in memory of the slain soldiers.

Duffy, who spent Monday meeting with soldiers at Fort Campbell, added the white flags “send the wrong message to the troops and to those that would like to see the demise of the United States.”

Duffy said President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq should be given a chance.

“It’s too early to throw in the towel on this mission,” Duffy said in an interview.

A war spending bill coming up soon in the U.S. House would effectively require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008. Bush on Monday urged more patience as the war entered its fifth year, saying success is possible but “will take months, not days or weeks.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Monday called Iraq the “central front” in the war against terrorism. McConnell has been a leading supporter of Bush’s war policy, including the plan to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and Iraq’s troubled Anbar Province.

McConnell said al-Qaeda is hoping to force a withdrawal of U.S. troops, adding that such a scenario would “be a victory for al-Qaeda and a nightmare for the Iraqis.”

“For the sake of the Iraqi people, the stability of the region and the security of America and our allies, we must not retreat from this fight; we must not succumb to the political expediency of the easy way out,” McConnell said in a statement.

Along Louisville’s waterfront, Gary Drehmel, 60, visited the memorial to the dead and wondered when the war _ which he said was launched on “false pretenses” _ would finally end.

“What’s victory?” he asked. “At what price are you going to pay? This doesn’t look like victory.”