Parents see son's death as inspiration for others

Sue and William "Bill" Pollard last spoke to their son, U.S. Army Specialist Justin Pollard, on Christmas 2003.

"We talked about how he was coming around to the tail end of his tour, and I asked him if he had any plans for when he got home, and if he thought that being in Iraq had been worthwhile," Sue Pollard said. "He said to me, 'I truly believe in the reason why we are here and that our being here is for the greater good. This is where I need to be.'"

Five days later, he was killed by friendly fire in Iraq.

Justin Pollard was born 21 years earlier on Oct. 12, 1982, at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. He signed up the day after 9/11 after watching the attacks live on TV with classmates at Irvine Valley College.

By joining the Army, he would become one of thousands of Americans spurred into action by the attacks that took place 10 years ago Sunday. Military recruitment gave him a "direction and a sense of purpose, which he had not had before," Sue Pollard said.

"When he enlisted — when the thousands and thousands just like him went down to the recruitment office after Sept. 11 — they didn't know what they were going to do," Bill Pollard said. "They didn't know what to expect other than something was going to happen and that they wanted to be a part of it."

Their son was killed when a gun was accidentally discharged after his team returned from a late-night mission to search for insurgents outside of Baghdad.

Today, his name appears on Line 59 of Panel 2 in the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial in Irvine. His is one of 6,139 names representing Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan between October 2001 and July 2011.

The Irvine City Council, Irvine Police Department, Orange County Fire Authority, Gold Star families and many others will convene at 4 p.m. Sunday at Northwood Community Park off Bray and Yale avenues in tribute to the almost 3,000 people who died, including first responders and military personnel who answered the call to action on and in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

The memorial was dedicated in November. Since then, volunteers have sent almost 600 rubbings of etched names to families and friends nationwide.

Memorial visitors are encouraged to "adopt" a member of the Armed Forces by making a name rubbing and researching his or her biography online, said the memorial's director, Dale Jelinek.

"If every visitor, every family did this, then the memories of those who died would be carried forward," he said. "We each would be a caretaker of someone who answered our nation's call and served and died in our name. And that would be a fitting memorial to these heroes."

In the years since their son's death, the Pollards have channeled their grief into advocacy though involvement in charitable organizations dedicated to the ongoing well-being of veterans and their families.

"Maybe for some people, it's just a day that comes and goes, and I feel bad for them," Bill Pollard said. "But maybe it's a wake-up call for some young kids, I don't know, but it can't be marginalized. This can't be pushed off to the side, the thousands of thousands of sacrifices can't be forgotten, and we can't forget what this was: an act of terrorism."

The memorial keeps growing with the war deaths. Last week, 198 names were added to the wall for those who died between April and July of this year. In August, 66 more were killed.

"The engraving will be done in advance of Memorial Day, but by then there will be far more unfortunately than the 66," Jelinek said.

Of 20 granite panels on the five sentinels, only two remain fully blank. Names will continue to be etched until all servicemen and women have returned home.

"Things like this put what happened into perspective for a lot of people," Bill Pollard said of the memorial. "Young men and women sacrificed so that you and I can talk about Justin or the weather or whatever. It's what makes this a great country. We have the ability to do this freely, but people have to realize that so many people had to sacrifice to get us here."

sarah.peters@latimes.com

Twitter: @speters01

If You Go

What: A Day Of Remembrance: 10th Anniversary of 9/11

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, Northwood Community Park, 4531 Byran Ave, Irvine

Information: http://www.northwoodmemorial.com or http://www.cityofirvine.org

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