Ruth Stonesifer, a quilter from Doylestown, Penn., was the first to approach the wooden lectern in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Saturday morning to begin reading the names of nearly 7,000 U.S. men and women who have died while deployed since Sept. 11, 2001.
Evander Earl Andrews. Jonn Joseph Edmunds. Kristofor Tif St onesifer.
The third name was her son’s. He had been a “vegan vegetarian philosophy major” at the University of Montana, she said, who cut a cast from his leg the night before his Army Rangers battalion flew to Afghanistan in October 2001 so he wouldn’t be left behind. Days later, he became the third person to die in what has become the longest period of combat in U.S. history.
For the first time, Kristofor’s name and the names of 6,789 other service members who died overseas were read aloud in a ceremony that was expected to last eight hours.
“This is your day. This is your place,” said Jan C. Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, who organized the ceremony and five others like it to read the names of the 58,000 soldiers who died in Vietnam — a process that can take four days.
Stonesifer said she felt at home in front of the wall that bears so many names. “All of our fallen sons and daughters are there together in the black granite reflection,” she said.
More than 450 mothers, siblings, spouses, friends and other service members or veterans stood in line on the grassy field to read the names of the soldiers they loved and lost.
Steven Checo. Gregory Michael Frampton. Thomas Joseph Gibbons.
Retired Gen. David Petraeus was among those who waited for a turn. In a rare public appearance since he resigned as director of the CIA, Petraeus signed up to read names of fallen members of the 101st Airborne Division, which he commanded during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
In his pocket, Petraeus carried his “Screaming Eagles” patch, identical to the one he had given to each member of the division. In an interview, he said it meant “an enormous amount” to him to honor “those who gave that last full measure of devotion,” echoing words spoken by President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address during the Civil War.
Wearing a dark suit, Petraeus approached the lectern again, and again, as he read more than 200 names in clusters of 15.
The names were read chronologically, beginning with that of the 36-year old from Maine who died in a forklift accident while building a runway in Qatar not a month after two hijacked passenger jets were crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. The ceremony was expected to end eight hours later with the name of Adrian Michael Perkins, a 19-year old from Pine Valley, Calif., who died one week ago from a “noncombat-related” gunshot wound in Amman, Jordan.
Amid the rumble of motorcycles nearby and with a light breeze, the names were read slowly, continuously.
Joshua Abram Tomlinson. Patrick Xavier Jr. Shane Stanley Barnard.
Those honored Saturday include 160 women and 6,630 men; 5,669 white soldiers and 633 black soldiers; and 1,802 soldiers who were younger than 22 years old.
They include 21-year-old Army Spec. Kendell K. Frederick, who died near Tikrit, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his car in October 2005. His mother, Michelle Murphy, said her son, who was born in Trinidad, died on his way to being fingerprinted as part of his U.S. citizenship application.A law has since been passed in his name to make the application process easier for tens of thousands of non-citizens who have enlisted.
The list also includes Ken Ballard, who was on the 384th day of a tour in Iraq when an unmanned machine gun on his battle tank swung around and discharged in the chaos of combat, said his mother, Karen Meredith.
This weekend marks 10 years since the single mother from Mountain View, Calif., lost her only son. He was a fun-loving, fourth-generation soldier who used to declare “no-pants days” in his tank when it got too hot, she said.
“Every single picture I saw of him in Iraq, he was smiling,” she said.
The Mall was crowded with tourists on Saturday, some of them bearing U.S. flags and carrying flowers to the leave as tributes at the Wall. Hundreds of children whose parents or siblings have died in the military attended a picnic with members of the Washington Redskins football team.
A more permanent memorial for this generation’s fallen soldiers is planned as part of an education center scheduled to be built in 2016 near the Wall.
In a speech before the ceremony, Ruth Stonesifer described the sleepless night she spent watching the “green night-vision coverage” of the first operations in Kandahar when she noticed the ticker at the bottom of the screen announcing that two Rangers had been killed in a helicopter crash. The next day, a man in a green uniform came to tell her that one of them had been her son.
Kristofor was 27 when he went to war, kind of an “old man” compared with many of his fellow soldiers, she said. And from the beginning, he had a sober view of what was to come.
Before he left, he told her: “A lot of good men are going to die.”