Each stick carries a name. Each name has a story. And thousands of the short white stakes fill the front lawn of Clover Park High School.
"Every stick represents a fallen soldier," Joshua Howard said, "so it’s not just a stick. It’s a person."
A sophomore class at the Lakewood high school is honoring American service members who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan with a mock-up of Arlington National Cemetery. Row upon row – more than 5,000 sticks are included – carry the name of every service member killed in both wars.
A teacher collected and painted the paint sticks. The students wrote the rank and name of the fallen. And more than 30 people started driving the sticks into the ground at 7 a.m. Thursday. The layout is based on the Virginia cemetery, complete with walking paths between the memorials. Each stick is spaced 2½ feet apart – the exact distance of the honor guard’s stride at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"They’re learning to think outside themselves, to honor those who sacrificed for our way of living," teacher Bryan Winkler said. "They also understand that we’re also honoring our living service men and women. It shows that we care what’s going on."
Winkler, the advisory teacher to the group of sophomore boys, said he wanted to connect their community-service project with Memorial Day. Another teacher, David Russell, came up with the idea after showing the class a video on Arlington.
The school’s administration was quick to support the idea, Winkler said, and several businesses in the area helped out with donations of equipment and materials.
Clover Park draws heavily on military families stationed at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base, and many have felt the impact of the wars personally. When Winkler asked how many had a family member or knew somebody who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, he said two-thirds raised their hand.
"They learned the gravity of this," he said. "When you look at all of this, it affects you. When they were writing down the soldiers’ names on each marker, they were affected. They had sheets, and each sheet had about 40 soldiers on it. We had 111 sheets just for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"They saw the volume of it. And this goes way beyond the classroom."
Drivers honked in support as they sped by. Several students who aren’t in Winkler’s advisory took time from classes to help drive the sticks into the ground. Kirstin(cq) Satterfield’s brother will deploy to Iraq with the Washington National Guard in August, and she received permission to miss class and help out all day. She wore a pink National Guard T-shirt while leaning over to knock the top of the sticks with the side of her hammer.
Russell, an Air Force veteran who served in Desert Storm, hopes the memorial will also remind people that Memorial Day isn’t just an excuse for a long weekend and deals on a new car.
"The whole message is that freedom isn’t free. It comes with a price," he said. "And we want people sometimes forget the purpose of Memorial Day; you get bombarded with ads for sales. But it’s about honoring those who sacrificed."