White crosses in Lafayette add one more

May 2, 2008 7:08:22 PM PDT
For years an East Bay man has painstakingly recorded the number of American casualties in Iraq. On a Lafayette hillside the count is on a big white board, just above thousands of crosses. By Friday, there was one more cross added, bearing the name of the latest Bay Area casualty.

Twice a week, Craig Cataline climbs up this hill in Lafayette carrying a new reality concerning the war in Iraq. His job is to update the number of those U.S. troops who died in combat. On Friday, he added thirteen. The total number stands at 4,065.

"When we hit 4,000 it was pretty tough. It was Easter and we literally dragged ourselves up there to do it because it was so said. It's so many dreams gone," says Cataline, a crosses volunteer.

Ironically, Cataline's son left on Thursday for his second tour of duty, after spending seven months in Iraq.

"Do you ever worry that you may have to put up a number for him?" asks ABC7's Lyanne Melendez.

"Oh everyday, every morning. I think what is that going to be like and I will do it I am not going to have somebody else do it, if it has to happen," says Cataline.

Recorded are the number of men and women killed only in Iraq, but not the ones who died in Afghanistan. Cataline says they too should be recognized.

Instead, some families who lost loved ones in Afghanistan have asked to honor them by putting up crosses.

Lafayette native, Jonathan "Jake" Yelner died last Tuesday in Afghanistan.

"We are going to be in contact with the family. We never put a name up, unless the family asks us to do that," says Lynn MacMichael, a crosses volunteer.

However as we discovered on Friday, someone already had put Jake's name up.

The group which maintains this memorial now wants to honor those servicemen and women who have taken their own lives.

"We want to somehow honor them because they are as much a victim of the war as the people that these crosses represent," says MacMichael.

Yelner's mom says their family did not write Jake's name on the white cross found on Friday. However, she says she does want to add another cross to honor her son. A memorial service will be held for Yelner next Tuesday in Walnut Creek.


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