In late 2003, Rodger Asai was thinking about his younger brother, who had died suddenly the year before.
He got to thinking about how we grieve, and about the families of the dead U.S. service members whose bodies were coming home from the war in Iraq.
Then he started thinking about how the Pentagon, starting with the 1991 Gulf War, had barred journalists from publishing photographs of their flag-draped coffins, and it made him mad.
As a former Marine, the Albany resident wanted to honor their sacrifice and express his support to their grieving families. The photography ban, he felt, denied him and other Americans the opportunity to do that.
In response, he set to work constructing a personal tribute to those honored dead: The Remembrance Rug. Asai's unusual memorial was on display Saturday afternoon on the grounds of the Benton County Courthouse as part of a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan organized by Corvallis peace activists.
Asai, now 56, began his latch-hook rug with an American flag motif, then started adding geometric symbols to represent the casualties. Each cross, rectangle or triangle commemorates an individual U.S. or coalition service member, journalist or civilian who died as a result of the Iraqi conflict, either directly or indirectly. The symbols are color-coded to denote branch of service or civilian status.
The rug, which is 3 to 4 feet in width, has grown to 140 feet in length, with individual patches representing more than 6,000 dead.
"I'm just starting on the next section," Asai said. "There's over 1,000 to go, so it's not done."
He hopes the rug will serve as a reminder of all those who have lost their lives as a result of the Iraq war, in spite of the ban on photos of military coffins (which was lifted in 2009 after 18 years in effect).
"It was kind of like sweeping them under the rug," Asai said of those downplayed deaths. "With this you can't do that, because it is the rug."