89 new tombstones will grace this year's Memorial Mile
Gainesville Veterans for Peace has added 89 tombstones to its eighth annual Memorial Mile, each representing a soldier who has died fighting wars within the past year.
The 6,782 tombstones are in remembrance of those who have fallen while fighting in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003.
The memorial will be on display starting at 7 a.m. Saturday through dusk on Memorial Day along Northwest Eighth Avenue near Westside Park, between 22nd and 34th streets.
Veterans for Peace representatives will be on-site with an information directory that will assist visitors in locating specific tombstones. In previous years, visitors have been known to visit the display and place flowers and other mementos to honor their loved ones.
The setup of the tombstones is arranged by year, war, military branch and the name of the veteran.
The Peace Ribbon from Code Pink will also return this year, which is a project where individuals make cloth memorials to remember the fallen heroes. The Peace Ribbon currently contains more than 100 panels that will be paced along the Memorial Mile.
Jacque Betz, the Peace Ribbon coordinator and artist, said most of the panels that will be displayed represent Florida soldiers, as well as Iraqi civilians and children.
Paul Ortiz, Veterans for Peace member and media coordinator for the local chapter, said the goal of the panels is to remind visitors that war has an impact, not only globally, but locally.
"There's a cost to a war that doesn't end when the war ends," Ortiz said.
It is common for visitors to view the memorial at night to offer a moment of silence alone. Many visitors in past years have left personal memorabilia, such as flowers, marker inscriptions, battle ribbons, hats, even a can of beer, Ortiz said.
Ortiz, a veteran of the U.S. Army, said the memorial allows him to think back on his own experiences in the service.
"When I walk down those tombstones, I look for people from units that I was in," he said. "Every year, I have my kind of quiet moment where no one is around."