I was a Staff Member

One year towards the beginning of the Iraq War some staff member working on Eyes Wide Open negotiated the use of the lawn next to the Visitors Center across from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia for display of the boots. That would have been coup enough, but the exhibit was also to be up over July 4th weekend when thousands upon thousands of visitors pour into Old City Philadelphia to celebrate the birth of the United States and the best ideals of the nation.

There were about 1500 boots on display by that point which seemed like an enormous number, and many of them carried mementos and photos placed by family members and friends of the service members who'd died. Some of the boots had even been swapped out with the deceased's actual boots. Since the exhibit needed to be secured, what usually happened was that, each night, every boot was removed for storage and, each morning, volunteers would lay the exhibit out again.

The particular day I was on duty, we spontaneously came to the decision that staff would sign up for night watches instead, to spare all that work since there was no rain forecast overnight. I will never forget the peacefulness of the night watch and sense of sacred duty I felt in those wee hours. I'll also never forget the incredible weight of sadness over the deaths of so many.

More From AFSC's Century Of Action