WAITSFIELD, Vt. - Every time a GI is killed in Iraq, a flag goes up in Vermont.
Nearly two years after it was installed, a roadside memorial made up of tiny white flags, arranged like cemetery gravestones under a sign that reads "American Military Killed in Iraq," continues to bloom.
The memorial - in a field of wildflowers along a rural two-lane road - was established by a group of peace activists intent on reminding people about the bottom line of war. Its caretakers add a flag and change the numbers on the sign to reflect the new total - 3,723 as of last Tuesday - as the death toll grows.
"We put it here because we wanted a way to have the cost of the war be visible to everyone, however you happen to feel about it," said Russ Bennett, a 56-year-old builder who was among the organizers. "You become inured to the number. It's like the national debt. It doesn't mean anything to you anymore. "
Such memorials have sprung up elsewhere, but usually on a temporary basis. Sometimes, they elicit backlash.
This one - which has no official name - got its start in October 2005, when Bennett installed one like it on the lawn of the Vermont State House in Montpelier as part of an antiwar rally.
Seeing how people were moved by it, he and others set about looking for a spot for a permanent one in the Mad River Valley, where they live.
Two towns said no to requests to use public property, but the owners of Yestermorrow, an architecture-design school, agreed to have the memorial built on a three-acre site they own next to their building.
Bennett, engineer Jito Coleman, 59, of Warren, and others obtained 2,000 white marker flags and planted about 1,910 of them in rows. The rows are 4 feet apart, the flags in each row 2 feet apart. A plywood sign - white, with red and blue trim - has red numerals depicting the number.
When a death is recorded in Iraq, Bennett or other volunteers go out to the field, change the number and add one of the 3-by-5-inch flags.
In advance of holidays, they remove the flags, mow the grass, and then put them back in.
"It's a heavy burden to stick those things in there, quite frankly," said Bennett, who did the duty two or three times a week until earlier this year, when he ceded it to another volunteer. "It's not like a lot of folks who sorta' hear it on the news, four more dead today. When you pick this issue up every single day, you feel that burden."
Ned Kelley, 66, of Fayston, a Vietnam-era veteran who served in the US Coast Guard, now handles the flag and number-updating job. His son, a US Army forward artillery observer, just returned from duty in Iraq.
"I'm always thinking: Next week, will I be putting his flag in?" said Kelley.
To him, the simplicity of the memorial is what makes it powerful.