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Huber honors Hoyer at tribute to U.S. vets killed in Iraq

Arlington National Cemetery, the famous burial grounds for the nation's war heroes, has inspired a new tribute to U.S. servicemen and women who've died in the Iraq war, this one on the U.S. West Coast.

Arlington West features rows of simple white crosses perfectly aligned on a sandy stretch of beach in Santa Barbara, Calif., a city 75 miles north of Los Angeles. Each cross represents one American soldier killed in Iraq. The striking display has been set up every Sunday since November of 2003.

Veterans responsible for it welcome the public to not only view this memorial, but invite family and friends of the dead to visit the individual cross that's in remembrance of their loss. When they do, a pre-made label featuring the fallen soldier's name is affixed to the cross and flowers are placed in front of it, donated by local florists.

Last month, Mary Lee Huber of Ellsworth encountered the memorial while helping her daughter, Leslie Brunstad, get settled in Santa Barbara for a job with 3M. Using an on-site directory, they found the specific cross in memory of the late Bert Hoyer, an Army Reservist with Ellsworth's 652nd Engineer Company who was killed in Iraq on March 10, 2004.

Due to their visit, what was a plain white cross now reads: "Pfc. Bert E. Hoyer...Died March 10, 2004...Baqubah, Iraq...Age 23...Ellsworth, Wis...Explosive device hit his convoy."

At the time of Huber and Brunstad's visit, 2,764 American soldiers had died since the U.S. invaded Iraq and 20,895 had been wounded, a sign at the location read. Over 650,000 Iraqi people had died.

On at least four occasions since the memorial has been displayed weekly, volunteers have lit candles and placed them in front of each cross as a further reminder of the human cost of war. Memorial organizers, including members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Veterans for Peace, say they're dedicated to welcoming the troops home and insuring those who return with broken bodies and minds get the best care possible.

They're also concerned about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in returning Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans, according to information shared by Huber. They encourage thanking these vets for their service and welcoming them home. If they talk freely about what happened over there, people here are advised to listen, but not ask questions. If they are quiet or seem different upon returning, this may be cause for concern.

Long-term studies show keeping busy can suppress PTSD symptoms, but will not eliminate underlying problems, the information states. Symptoms can take decades to appear.

Combat vets will be reluctant to share their battlefield experiences with family and friends who 'can't understand' because they have not been there, it states. It is their combat buddies who 'have been there--done that' that understand best. They supported each other in battle and can as vets. The public can help by suggesting they keep in close contact with their combat buddies.

Expect problems readjusting back into everyday life, the information states. Give them time and room to heal. Their emotions can range from survival euphoria, anger, grief, denial and withdrawal. Listening and not judging is crucial. People can suggest to them they contact a local vet center.