Sunday, November 11, 2012

Crosses of Lafayette

On the way out to the beautiful suburb of Lafayette, just east of Berkeley in Contra Costa County, you pass a stunning sight—an extravagantly wide hillside covered with white, wooden crosses. This dramatic landscape (really an earthwork), serves as a memorial for U.S. troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  Each cross represents a casualty, and a large, bold sign at the top of the hill denotes the number of soldiers killed from 2003 to the present. The memorial is clearly visible from both Highway 24 and from the BART train as it passes. A glimpse of the thousands of crosses is always a visceral reminder that the U.S. is still at war, and that every day real people are losing their lives. It always brings tears to my eyes.
Link to 2010 You Tube video of the sight 
The project was started in 2006 by Jeff Heaton, a local building contractor, on land owned by Louise Clark. The Mount Diablo and Lamorinda Peace and Justice Centers, and Grandparents for Peace, joined Mr. Heaton to support the project. Volunteers erected 300 crosses on Veterans Day 2006, and they continued to maintain the sight and add crosses until, at number 4,500, they ran out of space. They now simply post the number of casualties on the placard at the top of the hill. Originally, only service members killed in Iraq were represented, but when parents and friends of soldiers killed in Afghanistan asked that their loved ones also be included, 600 crosses were added. Mr. Heaton said that no one knows exactly how many crosses are currently on the hill. When I photographed the site the number read 6,667. This number represents only American casualties.

There have been some individuals who have objected to the memorial as anti-American and anti-military, and vandals have occasionally removed crosses and dismantled the sign that lists the numbers.  However, on the day I visited, many passing motorists honked their horns in solidarity.

Most crosses are white, but many are colored or decorated.

Mosaic cross designed by an unknown artist

View of Mt Diablo on the way to Lafayette
Majestic and peaceful, Mt. Diablo comes into view at the Hwy 24 gateway to the lovely town of Lafayette, named after Marquis de La Fayette, a French general who fought and encouraged France's participation in the American Revolution. The landscape is stunning and serene, but you soon pass the crosses of Lafayette and you are reminded that the war grinds on in the Middle-East. On this Veteran's Day 2012 the black number on the bright sign above the crosses reads 6,667.



  1. Thank you Taya, wonderful post, very moving. I recall these lines by Laurence Binyon:

    They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
    Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning
    We will remember them.

  2. Such tender focus on a war with calamitous results, and on a day of sad remembrances and plaintive questions.
    "The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind. The answer is blowin' in the wind."