At first glance, it seems like the tiny yellow flags marking the life of each U.S. service member who died in Iraq still cover Caren Crootof’s field.
But the bright spots that dot the sloping lawn are not the plastic flags that Crootof started staking into the ground about a year after the first casualty reports were released from the post-9/11 war. They are living beings, daffodils planted one by one in loose rows.
For about another week or so, the blooms will bear witness to the human toll of the Iraq war before they fade and only their foliage and Crootof’s bright green grass remain.
As the board in their midst records it in tall black numbers, that toll is 4,486 lives.
Crootof and her children started putting the flags in her field at the corner of Route 29 and Middleline Road in the hamlet of Middle Grove in July 2004 after the Bush administration backed the Pentagon in stopping the news media from photographing the flag-draped coffins of dead troops. She has said she is against the wars.
“We as a nation never had a shared grief about the cost of this war,” she said last fall. “That was the whole impetus behind the flags — to have a point of shared grief and shared remembrances.”
Crootof and about 100 volunteers replaced the flags with the flower bulbs last year in a ceremony in which the name of each fallen service member was read aloud.
“It’s my way of making people pause and think about what the decision to go to war has meant and the cost of the wars,” she said. “Our lives all go on, but for the people who lost someone in the wars, their lives are never the same.”