She is trying not to think about his voice, a rich baritone that echoed through the hallways.
It was bigger than he was, booming out like a preacher as he walked within Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School on his way to the Junior ROTC office where she worked. But Maj. Annie McNeil's tears are welling up and she doesn't want to think about that now, or about how Darryl Dent would call her after he graduated just to check in, or that he volunteered at the hospital, or that he dreamed of starting a family and keeping it together. She still has to face the crowd.
"I'm going to try not to think about him while I'm giving this award," she says.
Like 28 others from Maryland, Virginia and the District, Spec. Darryl T. Dent died in the Iraq war. He was three years out of high school and had worked as a security guard at Ballston Common Mall before being called to duty with the D.C. National Guard. He was killed in August when a remote-detonated explosive device went off under his five-ton truck north of Baghdad. He was 21 and the first D.C. guardsman killed in combat since the Vietnam War.
And like other schools across the region, Roosevelt High in Northwest Washington is trying not to forget. School officials plan to name the school's armory and a Junior ROTC drill competition after him. And Wednesday, at a senior awards ceremony at the school, McNeil stood amid the blue and yellow balloons in the auditorium and presented the first Darryl Dent Scholarship.
The $1,000 award, provided by Ballston Common, was given to Lenardo Eccles, a senior in Junior ROTC who rose to the rank of colonel in the program. McNeil managed only a few words about Dent before she broke down on stage, but wild cheering quickly drowned out her silence.
"He will never be forgotten here at Roosevelt," McNeil said in the quiet of her office.
Several other schools in the region have also taken time to honor former students killed in combat.
At Kent County High School in Worton on Maryland's Eastern Shore, the parents of Bryan N. Spry attended an awards ceremony Tuesday to present a plaque to a senior heading off to the military. Spry, 19, an Army private who went by Nick, was killed in February when the Humvee he was driving in Baghdad went off a bridge. Earlier, the school held a memorial service for Spry, who graduated last year, in the auditorium. The students composed a song in his honor and devoted a page of the yearbook to him.
"[We want] to dwell on the fact that Nick was ours. He chose this profession; he did it and did it well. We are proud of him at this high school," said Sue Nickerson, the school's transition coordinator.
On Thursday, during a graduation ceremony for Lord Botetourt High School in Daleville, Va., a color guard played taps and a moment of silence was observed for Sgt. Michael V. Lalush, 23, a Marine who died in March 2003 in a helicopter crash in Iraq.
The school also plans to install a memorial near the flagpole to honor Lalush, a 1997 graduate.
The memorial will include a plaque on a stone pedestal, benches and landscaping and will be paid for by donations, said his father, David Lalush. About $13,000 has been donated to a nearby technical school in his son's name because he was a Marine mechanic.
"All the recognition has definitely been overwhelming," Lalush said. "I'd like to see this plaque be more than just about him. It's going to be there for a long time, and all those high school kids will see it. It will probably sink in on some of them."