Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Faces of the Fallen – Supporting our soldiers and their families

Today on July 4, 2008, we celebrate our independence day in the United States. I saw part of a documentary this afternoon about Rocky Mountain News reporter Jim Sheeler’s book “The Final Salute.” In the book, Jim documents the moving stories of US servicemen and servicewomen who are the first to speak with and support the families of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen who have died in the line of duty.

At the end of this show, a brief, silent slideshow of most recent US casualties in the wars we continue to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan were shown. When I saw this show, I was struck by how important it is that we see the FACES and connect at a human level with the sacrifices of these servicemen and servicewomen, as well as their families. When I searched online for an image wall of recent US war dead, I found the AP article (republished by USA Today) “Index of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq.” The article includes the following image of five US soldiers who were recently killed:

Faces of the Fallen

At our community 4th of July parade this morning in Edmond, Oklahoma, several wives and family members were in the parade carrying pictures of their husbands and loved ones currently serving the US military at home and abroad. Some of these people are members of the group “Blue Star Mothers,” a nonprofit organization composed of “…mothers who now have, or have had, children honorably serving in the military… supporting each other and our children while promoting patriotism.”

Remembering soldiers serving today

Blue Star Mothers Float in Edmond 4th of July Parade

Remembering our soldiers

I first heard about Blue Star Mothers when dining at our local Old Chicago restaurant a few weeks ago. Old Chicago has an ongoing support campaign for Blue Star Mothers, to help support and remember our servicemen and servicewomen serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m not sure if these numbers are still accurate, but I would guess they are pretty close: The materials I read at Old Chicago said we have over 130,000 US soldiers serving in the Iraqi theater of operations and over 17,000 serving in Afghanistan. Of course there are thousands of others serving in other countries as well as here in the United States. Today, on July 4th, we need to remember all these military members and their families.

Someone needs to create a “Faces of the Fallen” website which can be used to share the photographs, names, home towns, and service information of U.S. soldiers who have given their lives in our ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other locations around the world. Does anyone know if a website like this exists? Websites like “Iraq Body Count” keep track of statistics of estimated military and civilian war dead in Iraq, and that is very important, but bar graphs somehow dehumanize the reality of military members paying the ultimate price. The U.S. Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in Washington D.C. has a similar effect, I think, listing rows upon rows of names without faces. The emotional impact of this memorial, which I have visited several times personally, is quite different than the emotional impact of the World War II Marine Corps War Memorial and others. The experiences of US servicemen and women as well as US citizens at home during the US war in Indochina and World War II were quite different, of course, so it is natural these memorials would evoke different emotions. In all conflicts, however, I think it is important to remember and connect with the human side of warfare and the sacrifices of those who serve. It is much more difficult to connect in this human way with textual names listed on a wall of stone or a computerized bar graph, compared to photographs or statues of real people.

If a website would be created (or already exists) sharing the “faces of the fallen” from our ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’m sure the site would be controversial. As I wrote in my October 2004 post, “Kant’s perpetual peace and US war dead,” images of the coffins of US military men and women returning to the United States have been closely protected and very controversial in the past. While many would use a website of fallen servicemember images to pay tribute, say thanks, and share stories, others would likely use the site to campaign for an end to these costly conflicts which were both started and continue to be promulgated by our civilian leaders in the US government.

Irrespective of your personal views on the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I encourage you to remember the servicemen and servicewomen who continue to serve the United States on July 4th, as well as their families. Consider supporting your local military families through Blue Star Mothers or other similar organizations. Remember and pay tribute to those who have died and given their lives in the line of duty as US military service members.

As I wrote in my February 2007 post “Criticizing policies not people:”

…the line between criticizing a government policy and the perception that the person levying that criticism is simultaneously criticizing the people tasked to carry out the policy is a very thin one at best.

I have very strong feelings and thoughts about our continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but rather than share them in this post, I will close by reminding us that is is possible to criticize a policy while still supporting those ordered to carry it out. (This is true of NCLB as it is true of US foreign policy.) I would also like to encourage everyone in the United States who will be of legal voting age for our presidential election in November to get out and VOTE. We live in a republic in the United States, and it is both our right and our duty as citizens to vote. Let your voice be heard.

Today, on July 4th, remember those who have served and those who continue to serve our nation in the armed forces. Support them and support their families. The websites AnySoldier and Soldiers’ Angels are two other websites I recommend (as does my mother) to support US soldiers and families.

Military Order of the Purple Heart Oklahoma City

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5 responses to “Faces of the Fallen – Supporting our soldiers and their families”

  1. Barbara Barreda Avatar

    Wes, Thanks for a great post! As the mother of a US serviceman I appreciate your point and your ability to embrace the various perspectives.
    Wish there had been more time for conversation at NECC.

  2. Kathy Lawrence Avatar

    While we were at NECC my daughter’s very good friend Staff Sargeant Eddie Heredia, from Houston, lost his life to rifle fire in Afghanstan. Eddie and his family were dual citezens of the United States and Mexico. All of his life he wanted to give back to this country that gave him so much. My sincere appreciation is with soldiers and their and families who have made this ultimate sacrifice so that we can live in freedom in this great country.

  3. Mom Avatar

    Wes — Check out CJ’s website, “They All Have Names.” He would appreciate the help of others to add more pages for those who’ve given all. More info about him & this labor of love is on his “Soldiers Perspective” blog.

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Thank you so much for sharing both the link to “They Have Names” and to that post which provides background. This is exactly the type of site which I think we need, and I’ll be sharing this with others here in Oklahoma to see if they are willing to write and contribute to this VERY important effort.

  5. sue Avatar

    Hi Wes,

    I tracked back from soldiers perspective. I am the sue in the article about They Have Names. I just read what you wrote in both articles and I appreciate your caring the way that you do and the support you are giving CJ’s website. I do some of the research and I can tell you that as I work on the profiles that are sent to our writers to familiarize themselves with the Hero, I am amazed by the stories. These were truly extraordinary human beings and their stories deserve to be told. If there are family members of fallen Heroes who read your site and would like to help us tell their story, please go to the website, and send me an email. Again, many thanks for your spreading the word.