Diner Creates Impromptu War Memorial Galloping Gerties Bar and Grill, near the Ft. Lewis Army Post in Washington State, began listing the number of U.S. casualties on a board in the parking lot this past year.
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Diner Creates Impromptu War Memorial

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Diner Creates Impromptu War Memorial

Diner Creates Impromptu War Memorial

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Soldiers at the Fort Lewis Army base near Tacoma, Washington have a favorite greasy spoon - Galloping Gerties Bar and Grill. It's also become a place to remember the war dead. A reader board in the parking lot lists the names of local soldiers who've died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From Northwest News Network, Austin Jenkins reports.

Mr. AUSTIN JENKINS (Northwest News Network): Since 1952 Galloping Gerties has been serving soldiers from Fort Lewis. During the breakfast rush, men and women in desert camouflage fill the booths.

Unidentified Woman: Okay. One decaf and one regular?

Unidentified Man: Yeah. One leaded and one unleaded.

Mr. JENKINS: As the servers bustle around…

(Soundbite of coffee pouring)

Mr. JENKINS: …topping off coffee cups and filling orders…

Unidentified Woman: You want the hash browns or the tomato slices?

Mr. JENKINS: …owner Sue Rockwell sits at a back booth flipping through a scrapbook. It contains articles about Fort Lewis soldiers who have died, and notes from family members of dead soldiers.

Ms. SUE ROCKWELL (Owner, Galloping Gerties Bar and Grill): Thank you for putting up my son's name, FPC Potter. Sincerely, Holly Barson Potter, which is his mother.

Mr. JENKINS: The notes of thanks are because of the sign outside Rockwell's café. She takes me out to see it. It's a beat-up reader board that displays the U.S. death toll in Iraq - 4,003 on this day - and the words the numbers have names. What follows is a list of six Fort Lewis soldiers who've recently died.

Ms. ROCKWELL: And this is Morales'. Kay Hill, which was one you didn't read about, he died after he came home. So did Mole. He died seven months later after trying to save three soldiers, who had actually been our customers here now that I think about it. He just died - Runyon and Roker.

Mr. JENKINS: In the year she's been tracking troop death, Rockwell has put nearly 100 names on her small reader board. When one goes up another comes down to make room. As we stand in the parking lot, one of Rockwell's customers backs up his car and shouts, God bless you. Rockwell says most people around here assumes she supports the war and President Bush. But she doesn't. Rockwell takes me to her office in the back of the café.

Ms. ROCKWELL: So my office is the real Sue.

Mr. JENKINS: Here among decades of memorabilia are postcards mocking the president, an old Kerry/Edwards campaign side and a Hillary Clinton sign. Rockwell, who inherited the business from her mother, readily acknowledges the seeming contradiction.

Ms. ROCKWELL: So, what's the reason I'm here at Gerties? Is it maybe to teach me about soldiers in the military and dispel some of the myths that I have? Or is it for them sort of see my side? I don't know.

Mr. JENKINS: Rockwell says she's not hiding her anti-war views, she's just not flaunting them in this military community. And that seems to sit fine with her customers. Specialist Paige Handback(ph) waiting for her breakfast order, says Rockwell's views about the war don't bother her.

Specialist PAIGE HANDBACK (U.S. Army): No. Because she supports us and that's the biggest thing now. You know, if she was, you know, not supporting us or making her views a little more public I might have a problem with it, a little more (unintelligible).

Mr. JENKINS: Sergeant First Class Thomas Perry, who's been to Iraq, agrees.

Sergeant First Class THOMAS PERRY (U.S. Army): People can feel anyway they want about the war, okay? As long as they don't forget that our guys have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and that's all that really matters to me. I don't, to be quite honest, I don't care what people think.

Mr. JENKINS: In the end, Rockwell says she walks a fine line between supporting the troops and opposing the war. Bottom line: she wants Gerties to be a safe home away from home for soldiers, that's why she puts sweet tea on the menu for the soldiers from the South.

Ms. ROCKWELL: The war's gone one way too long but I see no end in sight. And, yes, I can hate the war but what good does that do? Not going to stop the war no matter how I feel about it. So, yes, I love the soldiers more than I hate the war because I can take care of the soldiers; I can't take care of the war.

Mr. JENKINS: As for her reader board, Rockwell says she'll keep updating it with the names and number of U.S. forces killed until the war is over - as long as that takes.

For NPR News, I'm Austin Jenkins in Olympia, Washington.

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