Mock Coffins Attract Attention on University of Oregon Campus

Students walking past the Pioneer Father statue on East 13th Avenue Wednesday afternoon slowed their pace and quieted their conversations. Forty-eight mock coffins, draped in U.S. and black flags, occupied the grass courtyard between Fenton and Friendly halls to commemorate U.S. soldiers and Iraqis who have died as a result of the war in Iraq.

Eugene PeaceWorks sponsored the installation, called “Grief in Unity,” as a nonpolitical activity, event co-coordinator Craig Mahaffy said.

Of the 48 symbolic coffins, 45 shrouded in black cloth represented deceased citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan. The remaining three coffins, draped in U.S. flags, symbolized fallen American soldiers. Eugene PeaceWorks based the 15 to one ratio on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s casualty statistics as of April 1, 2006.

University faculty took turns reading aloud the names and ages of soldiers and Iraqis who have perished. Gina Psaki, a Romance Languages professor who also participates in the Concerned Faculty for Peace and Justice reading at the Heart of Campus on Fridays at noon, said she was incredibly humbled by the readings.

“We do it just to remember,” she said, “so they don’t disappear entirely.”

Wednesday’s event was not a demonstration or a protest, junior Nate Kirby-Glatkowski said. Instead, it was designed to “create space to grieve and acknowledge loss without political slogans,” he said.

Kirby-Glatkowski, an Iraq war veteran, spent six months during the summer and fall of 2002 working on small boat anti-smuggling operations. Now enrolled at the University, he is pursuing a degree in international studies with an emphasis on Latin American law and diplomacy.

People must set aside political agendas and focus on the loss of life, explained Kirby-Glatkowski.

“They are not dreaming, loving, talking,” he said. “They are gone.”

He said he hopes that “Grief in Unity” will stimulate others to reflect on and remember those who have died.

Mahaffy said the Iraq war is highly polarized, and Eugene PeaceWorks developed “Grief in Unity” with the intent to include all political spectrums in hopes of allowing the community to share the loss of life.

“We want to get beyond the finger-pointing,” said Mahaffy. “Coming together is a step in the right direction.”

Fliers circulated around campus by Eugene PeaceWorks earlier in the week encouraged supporters to dress for a memorial occasion. The organization also provided tissues and information about local grief counseling resources at the event for anyone in need of help dealing with feelings of loss.

A similar event took place two years ago on the lawn between the Knight Library and the Lillis Business Complex. The group chose the new location across from Johnson Hall because it offered a quieter space for people to pay their respects.