A journey of remembrance

Memorial: Anti-war activists recognize civilians killed in all the world's wars, pulling a stone from Massachusetts to Arlington.

August 04, 1999|By Melody Holmes | Melody Holmes,SUN STAFF

ELKRIDGE -- Over the bumps and up the treacherous hills of U.S. Highway 1, they pulled it -- a 2,000-pound stone memorial to those who never held a gun, but died in battle. It is for the civilian victims of wars all over the world.

The granite marker rests atop a 1,500-pound wheeled contraption that flies the American flag on its back and totes a boombox blasting Edwin Starr's "War: What is it Good For? (Absolutely Nothing)."

A project of The Peace Abbey, an anti-war organization and school, and the Life Experience school, both in Sherborn, Mass., Stonewalk is intended to honor civilian war dead by carrying on foot a tombstone marked "Civilians Killed in War" from Massachusetts to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

The Stonewalkers hope that the stone may be placed near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington, but they set out on their 2 mph, 490-mile journey without getting the cemetery's permission to bring in the tombstone.

"The only way to get it in there is to hand-deliver it," Stone-walk's leader, Lewis Randa, 52, said yesterday as the group passed through the Baltimore area on its 30th day of walking in this summer's sweltering heat. "It's brutal. It's been a hundred degrees about a dozen days," Randa said. "It's not easy -- as you can imagine -- but it wasn't meant to be easy."

The task may have been a little easier if the group had first gotten Arlington's consent before embarking on such a physically torturous journey.

David Theall, a spokesman for Arlington, said that placing a monument in the cemetery requires a joint resolution of Congress. Theall said that Arlington has yet to receive any instructions from Congress to allow the Stonewalk memorial.

Theall said officials from Arlington, the National Park Service and Virginia State Police had a conference with Randa on speakerphone and determined that Lady Bird Johnson Park was the best place for the gathering Randa and his companions intend to have when they reach Arlington on Friday. This is because the Stonewalkers would "negatively impact" the 23 funerals scheduled at the cemetery that day, Theall said.

Randa said that no matter what Arlington decides to about the stone, "we're not bringing it back." The group will leave the stone at an embassy in Washington if necessary, but Randa hopes a member of Congress "will come through for us at the last minute and start legislation for this."

Stonewalker Karl Schlotterbeck, 44, of Massachusetts, said hauling the stone "is the focus of our energy. We're offering it as a gift." Even if Arlington officials don't accept the stone, Stonewalk will not be a failure, he said. "The trip is worthwhile because of all the people who've seen it and been uplifted by it."

It takes 10 or more people at a time to haul the stone. The Stonewalkers depend on police and residents in the towns they pass through to help them pull their 3,500-pound weight up steep hills and maneuver through traffic. On Monday, an elderly woman and a mother with her two sons stopped to help them as they passed through eastern Baltimore County.

Ellen Barfield, 43, of Baltimore, heard about Stonewalk through her work with The Peace Abbey and began helping push the stone on Saturday. With her face camouflaged by the layers of sunblock she applied intermittently, Barfield admitted, "Sometimes I hang on and let the weight carry me."

Dharam Khalsa of Massachusetts joined the Stonewalkers yesterday. Khalsa, 42, said he is involved because "Somebody's gotta make peace as interesting as war." In between wringing out the sweat that dripped endlessly from his long, bushy beard, Khalsa added that the group has walked over roads of opposition on its path to Virginia. "Anytime you do something more than just vote, people think you're a troublemaker," he said. "You've gotta act."

The youngest of the sweaty, panting bunch was 17-year-old Larry Lench, a student at The Peace Abbey. He said that although he has never experienced the effects of war (he was in elementary school during the Persian Gulf crisis) he is taking part because "the millennium is coming soon and I wanted to do something to show that there can be peace in the near future."

As for surviving the summer's record heat, Lench said, "You get used to it."

The Stonewalkers have been able to find places to stay overnight and have received a great deal of help from Maryland state troopers such as Frank Nelson, who met them yesterday on the trek down Route 1 and led them to the police barracks in Elkridge to rest.

The group hopes that such luck will continue, especially when they reach Virginia on Friday. A wasted trip like this may keep participants like 47-year-old Amelia Simpson of Washington, D.C., from trying again anytime soon. She hopes the trip will bring success because, she admits, "My legs are incredibly sore!"

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