Volunteers working on the Arlington West veterans’ memorial were attacked on Memorial Day by a homeless man who destroyed part of the display and sent one volunteer to the hospital.
David Wilfong, 36, homeless, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse and mayhem for the May 27 incident. He was arrested at the scene by the Santa Monica Police Department and is being held on $100,000 bail.
The memorial is a weekly tradition in Santa Monica with a group of volunteers planting crosses and other religious symbols in the sand to represent veterans killed in the line of duty. It is built every week by Veteran’s for Peace, a national organization with chapters around the country that works to increase public awareness about the cost of war, oppose military intervention in international affairs, eliminate nuclear weapons and support veterans and victims of war.
According to volunteer Greg Foisie, the memorial had been set up as usual on Sunday but on holiday weekends, the group keeps the memorial in place over night with a candlelight vigil. He said that at about 4 a.m. he heard a commotion in the crosses and saw Wilfong knocking down memorial signs, tearing out crosses and swearing at the volunteers.
“I heard this guy shouting,” he said. “He was screaming and yelling and tearing up the memorial, saying he hated the government, hated the military and veterans.”
Foisie said Wilfong then began throwing crosses at people. Each wooden cross has a pair of metal stakes attached to anchor them into the sand and Foisie said they are dangerous when thrown at an individual.
“Then (Wilfong) repeatedly screamed at the veterans while attacking them physically with a shovel, swinging it at the vets,” he said in an email. “He injured one veteran, VFP President Michael Lindley – hitting him in the head. Lindley was taken to the St. John’s Hospital by paramedics where he received stitches.”
Greg Foisie is not a veteran but volunteers at the memorial in memory of his many family members who have served. He and another volunteer were able to restrain Wilfong at the scene and Foisie said the attack was representative of a larger misunderstanding regarding its purpose.
He said Arlington West is about honoring veterans while also opposing military conflict and working towards peace. He said the hatred expressed by Wilfong is an extreme but still related to the larger cultural failure to understand the purpose of Arlington West.
“These veteran volunteers get up at 3:30 a.m. on Sundays to set up the Arlington West Memorial in Santa Monica,” he said. They have done so every Sunday for over 15 years. The memorial is reverential, yet illustrates very serious human problems and pronounces important messages that do not seem to be appreciated and understood by the public at large. If this were not the case, we would be solving these problems as a society by now. Instead, we are effectively ignoring or acting indifferently to what the veterans’ memorial portrays and symbolizes – issues of life and death. This Memorial Day attack at the Arlington West Memorial is merely the most extreme example of misunderstanding and/or indifference to what these remarkable veterans have undertaken for the past 15 years.”
The memorial is established every Sunday and volunteers begin setting up the installation at dawn, tend it throughout the day and take it down at dusk, a massive job done every week, rain or shine. For more information about Arlington West Santa Monica, Veterans for Peace, visit www.arlingtonwestsantamonica.org.