Personal Memorials Honor the Fallen of the Iraq War
Gregg Garvey sat on his porch, clutching a photograph of his son and trying to come to terms with the news that the 23-year-old soldier had been killed in an ambush in Iraq.
The father sat for hours, his cheeks wet with tears, staring at a flagpole in the yard of his home in Keystone Heights, Fla. He wondered how he would survive the overwhelming grief, and how many other parents had the same empty feeling.
Slowly, an image began to come to him, the image of a monument at the base of the flagpole. Then it became clearer: It was a statue of a field cross -- a soldier’s helmet atop a down-turned M-16. He could see his son’s name, Army Sgt. Justin “Hobie” Garvey, on it. Then he could see more monuments with more names.
“I just looked at the picture of Hobie and said, ‘Hobie, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ ” the 50-year-old father said.
As the country honors its military men and women this Veterans Day, for many it will be a time to recall the ultimate sacrifice of the more than 1,100 troops killed in Iraq.
Across the country, communities, friends and family members like Gregg Garvey are creating scores of special memorials.
There are streets, buildings, even a ship and a mountain peak renamed for fallen soldiers.
In honor of his son, killed July 20, 2003, near Tal Afar, Iraq, Garvey has pledged to erect a bronze field cross statue in the hometown of every soldier killed in Iraq.
To date, Garvey’s project, www.lesttheybeforgotten.com, has raised enough money through donations and the sales of flags for seven statues, at a cost of $7,500 each.
“Everybody deals with grief their own way. I’m not going to dwell on what could have been. My son would not have wanted me to feel sorry for myself,” Garvey said. “It’s going to work. I just hit 50 years old. My grandfather just turned 100 this year. I have another 50 years to get this done.”
Across the country, other new memorials appear in varied types, but all stir deep feelings.
In Dartmouth, Mass., outside the town hall, officials dedicated a black granite bench inscribed with the name of Army Sgt. Peter Enos, who was killed in April 2003 in Bayji when his patrol vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Deborah Enos and her husband, Gerald, attended the dedication of the bench.
“I’ve been back once or twice,” the mother said. “It just brings sadness right now. I know the town did it with the best of intentions.... But it’s too much for us right now.
“We don’t know how to go through it. We do a moment at a time.”
She knows that one day she will be able to visit the bench without such an overwhelming sense of loss. But for now she’s content to know that her son’s friends and other family member go there.
“They sit there and they remember him, and it means a lot to them,” Enos said.
Thousands of miles away in Katy, Texas, the parents of Army 1st Lt. Jonathan Rozier regularly drive by a building bearing their son’s name: the American Legion Post. It was renamed for Rozier, who was killed July 19, 2003, when his unit was attacked while providing security at a municipal building in Baghdad.
And that’s not the only memorial to him.
Tidewater Inc. of New Orleans, where his late grandmother worked for more than 20 years, also christened one of its supply ships the “M/V Jonathan Rozier,” and a dining hall in Baghdad bears the soldier’s name.
“It allows his name and his memory to go on,” said his mother, Barbara Rozier. “Someday somebody’s going to ask, ‘Who is Jonathan Rozier?’ The story can be told about who he was and what he did.”
The story also can be told in New York City, where a part of 180th Street was named Staff Sgt. Riayan Agusto Tejeda Street for the 26-year-old Marine killed during a firefight on April 11, 2003, in Baghdad.
And it can be told in Holiday, Fla., where a post office was renamed in honor of Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, 33, who was killed in combat near the Baghdad airport on April 4, 2003.
It can be told, too, in Fort Carson, Colo., where a newly opened clinic was dedicated to Army Sgt. Michael A. DiRaimondo, 22, a medic from Simi Valley, who was killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 8 near Fallouja. His unit was from Fort Carson.
Dedication of the Michael A. DiRaimondo Troop Medical Center was bittersweet for the family.
“It’s a tremendous, tremendous honor and feeling to know how much he was loved,” said his father, Tony DiRaimondo. “It doesn’t take away the loss we feel. But it does so much to know what he did and how he affected people.”
The family has undertaken its own memorial effort, creating a foundation to give scholarships to students who want to become paramedics. They have raised more than $100,000 through fundraisers and their website, www.michaeladiraimondofoundation.org.
The memorials are not limited to streets and buildings. In Phoenix, a mountaintop -- a popular climbing spot -- was renamed Piestewa Peak for Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, 23, the first American servicewoman killed in combat in Iraq.
In Tampa, Fla., Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Aviles used to jog with his unit along an access road outside a Marine base; now a portion of the road is named for him. Aviles, just 18, was killed on April 7, 2003, when his amphibious vehicle was hit by enemy fire outside Baghdad.
His family is to attend the dedication of the road Nov. 17, said his father, Oscar Aviles. But they don’t expect it to lessen their pain. “The only satisfaction we will have is when we see him in heaven again,” the father said.
Florida State University also has set up a scholarship in honor of Aviles, a Marine Corps reservist who put off a full academic scholarship when his unit was called up.
Ray Cottrell, 71, doesn’t bear the personal loss of a son or daughter in Iraq. But he knows what it has done to his community in Brandenburg, Ky., near Fort Knox.
Outside his Ford dealership, he and his staff have been erecting small white crosses bearing the name of every service member killed since the war began in Iraq. Nearby, a sign tallies the numerical toll.
“It’s something we feel that must be done. We need to keep the public aware that people are dying each and every day,” Cottrell said.
People have come from across the country to visit the crosses. Some place wreaths or pictures. Others place combat badges, unit crests and dog tags. Still others bring small mementos, such as stuffed animals.
“The reason people come and see this is because they are here with everybody else,” Cottrell said. “They are not visiting a grave all by itself.”
He vows to maintain the Normandy-style tribute until U.S. soldiers stop dying in Iraq.
“The happiest thing would be that we wouldn’t have to put any more of them up.”