Names of Iraq, Afghan war dead to be read aloud at Vietnam Wall
Birds soaring over the National Mall in Washington, D.C., are reflected on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on Feb. 14, 2013. The names of servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan will be read aloud at the memorial on May 24, 2014, the Friday leading up to Memorial Day.
WASHINGTON — The first name that will be read at the ceremony during Memorial Day weekend is that of Evander Earl Andrews.
A small-town boy, he had left his parents home in central Maine, joined the Air Force, and on Oct. 10, 2001, became the first military person reported killed in the post 9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
His mother, Mary, 71, said Friday that she never thought his death would be followed by 6,700 more.
On May 24, Andrews' name and the names of the others killed in the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will be read aloud chronologically for the first time in a tribute at the Vietnam Wall, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.
The ceremony will open at 9 a.m. on the east knoll of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the reading will run from about 10 a.m. to about 5:40 p.m., the fund said.
Those interested can register to read names starting at 8 a.m. April 14 at www.vvmf.org/rotn. People will be asked to read 15 names at a time.
"Last month was the first month that no American was killed in Afghanistan" since the start of the war there, said Jan Scruggs, president of the fund and the creator of the memorial and its wall.
"It just seemed like the time was right to do this," he said. "And the Vietnam veterans are the ones who have to do this. We're not going to let happen to these people what happened to us.
"This will provide them some recognition," he said. "This will be a way for the nation to honor the war dead."
The event is sponsored by, among others, the memorial fund, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the American Gold Star Mothers of America. The names will include in-theater hostile and non-hostile deaths, the fund said.
Andrews, for example, was reportedly killed in Qatar in a forklift accident while building a runway. He was an Air Force master sergeant.
On five previous occasions, the fund has hosted the reading of the 58,000 names of those killed in Vietnam and listed on the wall. That program takes 19 hours a day over four days, Scruggs said.
Such readings are "another step in the process, if you will, of a nation going to war" and coming home again, said David Petraeus, a retired Army general who served as the top U.S. commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"There are a number of these steps," he said. "At some point, there will be a memorial for those who served in the post-9/11 wars." The reading is one of those milestones, he said.
He said he plans to attend the ceremony and read some of the names.
Barbara Benard, 67, of Columbia, Pa., the national president of American Gold Star Mothers, said: "It means a lot to us mothers from this generation. Who knows when there will be anything built for our sons and daughters?
"I think it's wonderful that they're doing this," she said.
Her son, Sgt. 1st Class Brent Adams, 40, who was a native of Lancaster, Pa., was killed Dec. 1, 2005, when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the vehicle he was driving in Ramadi, Iraq, she said.
He had volunteered to take the place of one his men that day, she said. Shrapnel struck him in the thigh and severed an artery. He had been in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard for 18 years.
She said she plans to be present for the May event and read her son's name.
Tom Tarantino, the chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, said the reading "is one of the things we do to remember those we've lost."
In Solon, Maine, Mary Andrews had not heard about the ceremony to remember her son until a reporter told her. Evander Earl Andrews was 36 when he died.
"I think that's good that they continue to honor these military men and women who have given their lives," she said Friday.
A great deal has changed since the death of her son, whose first name, she pointed out, is pronounced EV-ander.
"We've grown old," she said. Her husband, Odber, 82, had to give up raising cattle because of declining health.
"Your whole life changes when you lose a child," she said. "No matter how old that child is."
"We were looking forward to him retiring," she said. "He was going to build a house here on our farmland, finish raising his children here. That has not been."