ON Memorial Day, we honor Virginians whose lives were cut short by war. According to the Virginia Dead Military Database at the Library of Virginia, the Civil War claimed 32,751 Virginians, far surpassing the 11,444 who died during World War II and the more than 6,000 killed in World War I, Korea and Vietnam combined.
If your family hasn’t lost a loved one to war, it’s easy to forget the real people behind the numbers. They are not just faces in musty history books. According to a database compiled by The Virginian–Pilot, some 200 Virginians in military service have died since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
They came from military families, like Army 1st Lt. Benjamin J. Hall of Fredericksburg, son of a retired Army colonel, who died in 2007 from wounds he received after insurgents attacked his unit in the Chowkay Valley, Afghanistan.
They were athletic, like Sgt. Donald J. Lamar, a 2004 graduate of Stafford High who was a member of the wrestling, baseball and football teams. Lamar, who joined the Marines after graduation and served two tours of duty in Iraq, died in 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
Or Cpl. Ryan C. McGhee, captain of the Massaponax High School football team, who planned to play football in college, but during senior year decided to become an Army Ranger instead. McGhee was just 21 and on his fourth tour of duty when he died in 2009 of wounds he received in combat in Iraq.
They were immigrants, like Cpl. Nicholas D. Parada–Rodriguez, who was born in El Salvador and lived in Stafford County. The 29-year-old Marine, on his second deployment, was also killed in Helmand Province in 2010.
They were Native Americans, like Cpl. Brett L. Lundstrom of Stafford, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, who died in 2006 while conducting combat operations near Fallujah, Iraq.
They made an indelible impression on their communities, like Staff Sgt. Robert M. Stanley, a Spotsylvania High School graduate who was killed by an IED in Samarra, Iraq, in 2007 during his fourth combat tour. After his death, the Spotsylvania Parks and Recreation Department named an athletic field after him.
Or Sgt. David Ruhren of Stafford and Sgt. Nicholas Mason of King George, who were killed in a suicide bombing near Mosul, Iraq, in 2004. Assigned as combat engineers to the 229th Engineering Battalion, Mason and Ruhren, both 20, were the first area Guardsmen to die in Iraq. The Fredericksburg Guard armory was renamed the Mason–Ruhren Readiness Center to honor their sacrifice in 2014.
They were battle-hardened, like Sgt. 1st Class Michael L. Russell of Stafford, a flight engineer who was serving his sixth tour in Afghanistan when his Chinook helicopter was shot down by enemy fire in 2005.
They were decorated war heroes, like Staff Sgt. David H. Steward, also from Stafford, who died in 2014 in Helmand Province. The 34-year-old Steward, eulogized by his brothers in arms as the “embodiment of an outstanding Marine,” had received 13 awards for valor in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They were heartbreakingly young, like Spc. Morganne M. McBeth of Fredericksburg, who was fatally stabbed by a fellow soldier in Iraq in 2010. McBeth, a combat medic, was just 19 at the time of her death.
They served to honor their families, like Pvt. Edwin A. Andino of Culpeper, who was killed in 2006 by an IED in Baghdad, Iraq. Pvt. Andino told friends he joined the military to make his mother and grandfather proud.
They were newlyweds, like 22-year-old Army 2nd Lt. Leonard M. Cowherd of Culpeper, who was married less than a year when he was killed by sniper fire in Iraq in 2004. Cowherd’s last message to his bride, Sarah, was included in HBO’s 2004 special, “Last Letters Home.”
They were on a mission, like Sgt. Joshua J. Frazier of Spotsylvania, who enlisted in the military after 9/11. He was shot and killed by a sniper in Anbar Province, Iraq, the day after he called his mother to tell her he had been promoted to sergeant.
They were selfless, like 45-year-old Army Col. Paul M. Kelly of Stafford, who was killed in 2007 when his Black Hawk helicopter crashed. The National War College later named a classroom after Kelly, calling him “a man who lived his life to lead others with a servant’s heart.”
They were honored by the General Assembly, like Cpl. Christopher L. Weaver. The Chancellor High School graduate was sweeping roads for explosives in Hadithah, Iraq when he was killed in an ambush in 2005. Or Sgt. Dustin J. Perrott of Fredericksburg, who died in Afghanistan in 2007 when the Humvee he was riding in hit a roadside bomb.
We salute the fallen. whose sacrifices can never be repaid. “May flights of angels sing them to their rest.”