Church Honors Those Lost in Iraq, Afghanistan
Prayer memorial for war dead to be completed Sunday
Gold, blue and green ribbons flutter in the summer breeze beneath stately trees at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church. Along with the strands of color, the wind stirs black and white strips of paper, each bearing a name.
From time to time, the flash of color attracts the attention of a motorist, who turns from the traffic on Peachtree Road to take a closer look, then falls into reverence.
The long, curving rows on the white-columned church's lawn honor those who've lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The names of each of the more than 6,400 Americans killed in the two far-off countries will have a place at the "Prayers for Peace" memorial.
The ribbons hang with memorial "dog tags," which list each dead soldier's name, rank and age. At the church's annual "Celebration of Freedom" services at 8:45 a.m. and 11 a.m. Sunday, the congregation's veterans will hang the last ribbons and name tags upon the memorial.
Susan Marshall, church director of programs and evangelism, said the memorial will be dedicated on Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, which resulted in the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said she hopes families of those killed come to the church to find their son or daughter or brother or sister's name. The name tags are in alphabetical order.
"We want them to know their loved one was remembered with gratitude," she said.
The "Prayers for Peace" ribbons' colors have special significance: the gold symbolizing prayers for those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; blue for prayers for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and those around the world struggling against oppression; and green for prayers for peace in each of our lives.
Marshall said congregation members "of all ages and stages" have been working since March on the memorial, cutting, preparing and hanging the ribbons and placing the name tags in rain-proof plastic. Senior citizens and school-age children have been working during the day and volunteers at night, six days a week, she said. "750 members of the congregation have been helping to make this possible," she said.
The completion of the project on Sunday will give a special significance to the Celebration of Freedom services, held each year before July 4. As the congregation sings "Battle Hymn of the Republic," veterans from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and other American operations line up for a procession to the altar. The veterans "will be the first to hang the yellow ribbons at the end of the service," she said.
Marshall said she got the idea for the memorial while in New York City. When riding through Manhattan in a taxicab, she saw gold ribbons stretched in front of a church and asked the driver to stop. When she got out to look, she realized it wasn't an art installation, but a memorial to American soldiers killed in battle.
"We could tell we were on sacred ground," she said. "We knew that it was time to say thanks to those men and women who'd served us."
Now, because of that encounter in Manhattan, a special place of remembrance stands in Buckhead.