The Washington Post

State officials gather to honor Virginia’s war dead

A memorial for war dead stands on the steps of the State Capitol during a service Thursday honoring Virginians who have died while fighting terrorism. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Steve Helber/AP)

Assembling on the steps of the south portico of the Virginia State Capitol bright under a cloudless sky, they asked Virginians to pause during their Memorial Day celebrations over the coming weekend to recall fellow state citizens who have fallen in battle.

McDonnell said the names of 233 Virginians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years have been added to a permanent Wall of Honor in the attorney general’s office in recent years, including 25 killed over the last year.

Marlene Blackburn, left, who lost her son, U.S. Army Cpl. William Kyle Middleton, in Afghanistan, is comforted by her uncle Bob Galaspie at the service. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) (Steve Helber/AP)

The names of all 233 were read aloud by members of different branches of the armed services. A Coast Guard helicopter performed a ceremonial fly-by in the capital city’s sky, and a bagpiper with the Virginia Department of Corrections played “Amazing Grace.”

Charles Cowherd, a Culpepper native now living in Louisiana, said his brother Second Lt. Leonard Cowherd Jr. was killed in Iraq in 2004. He told the crowd that it was appropriate that the Virginia memorial pay tribute to each service member, as an individual. He likened the Wall of Honor to the memorial to those killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, a series of empty benches, or to one in Oklahoma City, where empty chairs honor those killed in the bombing of a federal office building in 1995.

“Terrorism, the ultimate expression of nihilism, challenges us with the following question: How do we honor the victims of actions done at random, without rationality, by an elusive enemy with no perceivable end?” he asked.

“As a society struggling to find meaning out of grief, clarity out of confusion, we have framed our memorials primarily as monuments to the individual: We don’t know why you died. We can’t conjure a fitting physical testimony. But we know you, and we love you, and we honor you with a simple bench, a chair or your name carved on a faceless wall.”

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.


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