Janet and Bruce Dart don’t know any service members who died in Afghanistan and Iraq. In many ways, the couple feels pretty disconnected from both wars, a feeling they believe much of the public shares.
So on a drizzly, overcast Memorial Day on Monday, the two decided to volunteer for “We are remembering — Not just a number,” an event in Bend that conducts a continuous reading of the name, age and hometown of every U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003.
The event was one of many held around Deschutes County to remember fallen veterans on Monday.
In comparison to her experience with the Vietnam War, which she remembers being on her TV every night, Janet Dart feels removed from some of the country’s most modern conflicts.
“That’s why it’s important to personalize it,” she said. “Just seeing those names … all of these people died for us.”
Making what otherwise could be an abstract statistic on the other side of the world personal is part of why Tracy Miller began the event 12 years ago. The idea emerged after hearing on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War that military deaths had reached 4,000.
“The origin of this was the fact they just reduced it to numbers,” Miller said.
So Miller and her team of 20 volunteers take half-hour shifts over 15 hours to make sure every name is spoken and remembered. Boards are placed throughout Troy Field downtown with names of those who died etched into their sides.
And each year, Miller has to add more.
“This is an active list. The first five or six years, people would ask if we were going to come back to read names. I’d say, ‘If we’re still there, we’ll read,’” Miller said. “I added two days ago more names to these boards. It’s this continued thread, … and there’s the hope that maybe one day we won’t be there and we won’t be adding to this list.”
Craig Weyer, who served in the Navy from 2007 to 2012, was fortunate to not know any of the names being read Monday morning. But at 31, Weyer couldn’t help but be saddened by hearing how many of the soldiers who had died were only a few years younger than he is.
“It’s really sad and nostalgic,” he said.
He also couldn’t help but be bothered by the fact he was largely alone in the field when he was hearing their names.
“I don’t know if it’s generational or cultural, … but it seems like people have less time to stop now and think about the people who gave their lives,” Weyer said.
“What it really takes for a culture of people to survive is everyone looking out for each other,” Weyer continued. “And if we don’t take the time to remember and respect the people who have done that for us, then we’re never going to have the desire to do that for others if no one is going to take the time to remember and say our name after we’re gone.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160, firstname.lastname@example.org