Up the steep hill on Route 1 near Waterloo, Md., they kept going. The men and women have been pulling and pushing the load, nearly two tons of it, all the way from Boston. Now, with cars and 18-wheelers passing them, they continued toward Washington in the name of peace.
The Stonewalkers, as they call themselves, should arrive here today with their memorial to civilian war victims. There on the hot pavement of Route 1, the crew of 11 pulling the stone were reminiscent of the demonstrators of the '60s, with their idealism and the absolute belief in the rightness of their cause. Passing motorists played their part by flashing the V-fingered peace sign, bringing cheers from the sweat-drenched demonstrators.
But this time, the participants are in their fifties, wearing sensible shoes and funding their effort through credit cards.
The core group of a half-dozen, along with as many as 60 volunteers at one time who have joined in along the route, has been pulling the 6-by-4-foot slab of granite mounted on a 1,500-pound wooden caisson for more than 400 miles since July 4. Its destination, say organizers, is a prominent site in Arlington National Cemetery, preferably near the Tomb of the Unknowns. The lack of permits and permission is not, they say, a deterrent.
"Talking to folks in Washington, I tell you, it's easy to get cynical," said the project's co-director Lewis Randa as he leaned into a drawbar to get the caisson up a rise. He said that officials had told him again and again that they needed more time to consider whether the memorial should be placed in Arlington. "Then watch them when one Kennedy dies--the whole world stops!" he said. "Ten million innocent victims died and they don't have time to consider that."
He said they planned the trip for more than a year and felt they couldn't wait for bureaucrats in Washington to make decisions about where to place the stone. They wanted this monument, inscribed with "Memorial to the Unknown Civilians Killed in Wars," to arrive in the Capital by Aug. 6, the 54th anniversary of the atomic bomb destruction of Hiroshima.
A memorial stone was unveiled in 1994 in Sherborne, Mass., near Boston, at the Peace Abbey, an interfaith center that promotes world peace. The stone that's coming to Washington, however, is a duplicate because the organizers wanted to keep the original at the center, said Randa, who directs the Abbey with his wife, Meg.
Five of the six core demonstrators--the ones who have been with the stone every step of the way--are connected with the Abbey. Earl Standberry, a truck driver from Pecos, Tex., joined the group when he heard about the event. At 33, he is much younger than the others.
"I'm a veteran of the [Persian] Gulf War and saw innocent people die there," Standberry said as he put his weight against the back of the caisson. "I'm here to push this stone. Whenever I get tired, I think of the people of Kosovo who are tired also but don't have the water and support we have."
The walkers also have a steady diet of vintage rock and roll. Jackson Browne and the Rolling Stones are among the favorites.
The procession resembles a multi-legged creature decorated with large American and United Nations flags. The group is vulnerable to the cars and trucks that must change lanes to pass it. In Maryland, a state trooper was assigned to follow the caisson, lights flashing, to protect the walkers.
Officer Derrick Benard has driven an average of 5 mph behind the caisson since the procession crossed into Maryland on July 31. When he and the demonstrators stopped for a break at the Waterloo Barracks yesterday, he said he was impressed by their enthusiasm even on very hot days.
"I admire their physical and mental power, their ability to keep on going," Benard said. "I'd like to help them push that stone."
In the '60s, Randa marched against the war in Vietnam and considered the police an enemy. Thirty years later, he sees the police differently. He said that on several nights when the group was turned away from churches where they had planned to stay, officers took them to stations for showers, bought them dinner and found them shelter for the night.
When the six set off from Boston, they had no permits. Last week, they received permission to display the memorial on the east plaza of the Capitol and then take it to the Lincoln Memorial for an overnight vigil.
What they don't have is authorization to place the stone in Arlington Cemetery.
A cemetery spokesman, David Theall, said a joint resolution of Congress is needed before a memorial can be placed in the cemetery. "As of now, I am not aware of any sponsor to erect this stone in the cemetery," he said.
The Stonewalkers are optimists. They believe that members of Congress who touch the memorial will be transformed by the experience. The stone will be on display at the Capitol from 1 to 6:30 p.m. today.
"If they take a moment and touch the stone, they will understand," Randa said. "We are extending a caring symbol, a symbol of peace and reconciliation. This is a gift."
The Stonewalkers' permit for noon tomorrow allows them to cross Arlington Memorial Bridge and stage a concluding ceremony at Lady Bird Johnson Park on the Potomac River, about a mile from the cemetery.
What will happen to the stone then? Randa will say only that they are not taking it back to Massachusetts.
CAPTION: Earl Standberry, one of six core walkers, pushes the stone from the rear. The Stonewalkers hope that the memorial, which marks the lives of civilians who have died in war, can be permanently displayed in Arlington National Cemetery.
CAPTION: Stephen Stern, left, and Lewis Randa take the lead positions on the walk, pulling the 3,500-pound memorial stone up a hill outside Baltimore.