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Pacific edition, Wednesday, July 30, 2008

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa - Victor Follis speaks for the dead.

The Air Force technical sergeant is adamant that all of the Americans who died during the Battle of Okinawa be remembered on the black granite walls in Peace Prayer Park in Itoman.

Inscribed on the walls are the names of 240,734 people of all nations — soldiers, sailors and civilians — who were killed during the 83 day battle. The American section of the Cornerstone of Peace lists 14,409 Americans.

But there are many that have been long forgotten, Follis said.

"For example, there are a lot of merchant marines whose ships were sunk by the Japanese kamikazes," Follis said recently. "But not all of their names appear on the 93 walls that contain the names of the Americans who were killed during the battle."

"With the help of a merchant marine Web site, I started researching what merchant marine ships were damaged, along with those lost," said Follis, a quality assurance inspector with the 18th Maintenance Group.

He found 13 names missing from the memorial. And the more he looked into why their names were absent, he discovered more missing names.

Follis is now on a quest to have their names added to the walls, but at times it seems an almost insurmountable goal. The Okinawa Prefectural Government’s Peace Promotion Division’s chief requirement for adding a name to the wall is that the request comes from a family member.

There lies the rub.

"Many families are not aware that there is a memorial on Okinawa — or that the name of a family member who was killed here has not been included," Follis said. He hopes that by publicizing his Web site and rubbing service, he might hear from the families of those who were left off the walls.

The Web site,, provides information on how to add names to the wall. It’s an outcropping of what got him interested in the Cornerstone of Peace in the first place.

"It all started July of last year at a family reunion in Wichita, Kansas," Follis, 28, said. "My grandfather, who served in Europe, and I were talking about the Battle of Okinawa and he said he had a cousin who was killed in the Ryukyu Islands."

Follis told his grandfather about the memorial wall on Okinawa and his grandfather suggested that his cousin’s name might be on it and it would be nice to get a charcoal rubbing on paper.

On his return to Okinawa, Follis located the name, took a picture of the section of wall and made a rubbing.

"The family’s reaction was great," he said. "It provided closure for the man’s family and suddenly I got 10 requests for more rubbings of his name."

Follis and his wife, Jillian, started doing research on the battle and discovered that a local group, the Ryukyu American Historical Society, had once made rubbings for families, but currently lacked volunteers.

"I saw what the rubbings did for my family and how it brought disparate parts of the family that I had never met together," he said. Each request is answered with a full rubbing on paper and digital pictures of the name and the wall segment where it appears. The rubbings are offered without charge.

"It’s free because I just don’t think it’s right to charge for these memories," Follis said. "The cost of driving to the park and for the paper and stamps — it’s next to nothing and I personally enjoy doing something nice for people."

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