Volume 13, Issue 39 ~ September 29 - October 5, 2005
One Woman’s Mission
Remembering America’s casualties in Iraq
by Kat Bennett

September has been a month for counting the dead. For remembering those lost during the attacks on the World Trade Center and the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast.

In the 1400 block of West Street in Annapolis, Kim Finch has made it her personal mission to help us remember the number of Americans who have died in Iraq. In her front yard, she has erected, and regularly updates, a sign that lists the costs of the war in Iraq and the number of lives that have been lost.

Only posterboard at first, the first sign read Mourning in America. It listed the number of soldiers killed and the number injured. Then it disappeared. Finch replaced it. When the second sign disappeared, she replaced it again.

“I had the feeling that the facts were getting lost, so I wanted to remind people that people were dying in a war,” Finch told Bay Weekly. “Those people were men and women, husbands and wives, sons and daughters. They were fathers and mothers, neighbors, teachers, classmates and friends.”

Those who have died include soldiers, journalists, medical staff and officers. Each week the number goes up.

Finch is a soft-spoken woman with an easy smile and a regular job. She has lived for 23 years with her husband and three daughters on West Street. For the past 11 months, her street — the city’s main artery, which is congested to a crawl during rush hour — has also become her forum. She is not a protestor. She did not post her sign, she says, to challenge anyone but to help people remember.

Each day, Finch takes her numbers down and puts up new ones. One day, while she was inside her home updating the numbers, a passerby saw the blank sign and filled the numbers in for her.

On September 24, the day of the March in Washington Against the War in Iraq, Finch was at home updating the sign when, she says, she heard “many people honking their horns. A person parked at the library and walked across the street to tell us how much they appreciated the sign.”

There are people who have viewed the sign as a memorial to all those that have died. Flowers have been left on the grass under the sign, as well as small toys and notes.

Her 12-year-old daughter’s favorite visitor was the Navy guy in uniform who stopped by. He said that people at the Pentagon were talking about her sign. “Good,” Finch said. “It makes me feel great to know that they are talking about my sign at the Pentagon. I wish that there were more discussion.”

But she’s also lost count of the number of signs stolen, knocked down, torn, splashed with paint or broken apart.

“Why would people want to do that?” Finch wonders. The information she posts isn’t secret or revolutionary: It’s free and available online at the official U.S. Department of Defense website. Also, deaths are listed by state and city at a site called the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. At the CNN News site, you can see the faces of the fallen.

Her sign first went up after the elections in November. By Christmas, 2004, Finch heard that a complaint had been filed with the City of Annapolis. The Annapolis Department of the Environment confirmed that there was a complaint, but after viewing the sign, they determined that the complaint was invalid.

One visitor disturbed Finch.
“Once,” she said, “a woman stopped by to tell me that she thought that I was brave. It made me feel sad that there were people who were afraid to say what they thought.”

Finch is a Quaker, a religious society dedicated to peace and understanding. She says she does not see her sign as an act of bravery or of protest. She sees it rather as an opportunity to stimulate thought and discussion on the war.

So she opens her doors to comments.

“While there are some people who do not want to know or don’t want to think, there are others that do,” she said.

Visitors, she says, are welcome to stop by and talk.

To check the numbers yourself:

Freelance journalist Kat Bennett writes on issues from science to entertainment to the environment. Her last story for Bay Weekly was “When Will the Bay Flood Again?” on September 8 [Vol. xiii, No 36].

© COPYRIGHT 2005 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.