“I miss you Chris,” Tony Hernandez sobbed as he knelt, touching his cousin's name inscribed on the wall. He kissed the wall briefly before turning to leave.
May 30, 2016 - Tony Hernandez, kneeling, touches the name of his cousin, Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz, at the Honoring Our Fallen Memorial Wall unveiling in Long Beach, Calif. Diaz, a military working dog handler assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward), was killed by an explosive device in Helmand province, Afghanistan in 2011.The wall is the first memorial in Los Angeles County to list all the names of the more than 6,800 service members who have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Alexandra Hays, 201st Press Camp Headquarters)
Hernandez' cousin, Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Diaz, a military working dog handler assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward), was killed by an explosive device in Helmand province, Afghanistan in 2011.
At a ceremony at Rosie the Riveter Park in Long Beach on May 30, Diaz's name, along with the names of the more than 6,800 service members who have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11, were unveiled at the new Honoring Our Fallen Memorial Wall. Honoring Our Fallen, a non-profit organization, provides support and services to the family members of fallen service members and first responders, whether killed in the U.S. or abroad.
A crowd of more than 100 turned out to witness the unveiling of the wall. For some Southern California families who have a loved one buried in Arlington National Cemetery or elsewhere in the country, it is the first time they will have a permanent, public memorial that they can visit locally.
May 30, 2016 - Marine Staff Sgt. Edward Thompson, left, and Sgt. Hugh Miles III, right, both with 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment Division out of Pico Rivera, Calif., unveil the Honoring Our Fallen Memorial Wall in Long Beach, Calif. Thompson and Miles also served as members of a color guard for the unveiling. The wall is the first memorial in Los Angeles County to list all the names of the more than 6,800 service members who have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Alexandra Hays, 201st Press Camp Headquarters)
Hernandez said he was touched at seeing his cousin's name on the Memorial Wall, and he is glad it is not far from where he lives.
“People forget after they [service members] fall,” Hernandez said. “And this is showing that we don't forget ... we've got to tell young people they've got freedom because of this.”
For Nicki Johnson and her two children Landan and Aspyn, the ability to pay their respects so close to home is comforting.
“The reason that we're here today is that my husband is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and that's kind of a far distance from here,” said Johnson, a Belmont Shore resident. “To have something locally, just up the road that my kids can go to ...” her voice cracking with emotion, “... Just so see his name, it's incredible.”
Johnson's husband, Marine Sgt. Trevor J. Johnson, a combat engineer, was killed by an improvised explosive device in Helmand province, Afghanistan during his third deployment in 2009.
“Our lives will never be the way they were if he was still here,” Johnson explained. “My son will never really have a memory of his father, and my daughter was eight months old when he passed away. The fact that people can come here 50 years from now and see this name, is important to us.”
May 30, 2016 - Landan Johnson, 10, points to his father's name, Marine Sgt. Trevor J. Johnson, at the unveiling of the Honoring Our Fallen Memorial Wall in Long Beach, Calif. Trevor Johnson was killed by an improvised explosive device in Helmand province, Afghanistan during his third deployment in 2009 when Landan was only three years old. (U.S. Army photo by Cpt. Rebecca J. Murga, 201st Press Camp Headquarters)
Flanked by three leather-clad American Legion Riders out of Temecula retired Army Cavalry Scout Spc. Geoffrey G. Quevedo showed off one of his tattoos and joked that it cost him “an arm and a leg.” The quip is partially true for Quevedo; he lost most of his left arm and leg to a blast in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2011.
And while Quevedo returned from Afghanistan with his life, one of his fellow 10th Mountain Division Soldiers, Pfc. Theodore B. Rushing, did not. Rushing was killed in November 2011, just days before the blast that nearly claimed Quevedo.
“Not a lot of people know what Memorial Day is ... what it really means,” said Quevedo after finding Rushing's name on the wall. “My brothers have died for this.”
Laura Herzog, founder of Honoring Our Fallen, recognizes that every day is Memorial Day for the families of fallen service members—it's a mantra she repeats often.
Herzog was a civilian public affairs officer at Joint Forces Training Base Los Alamitos, California, in 2009 when she was asked to help with a “hero mission.” Turns out, the mission was assisting in casualty assistance notification, and she soon found herself in the living room of Mary Hargrove, the mother of Lance Cpl. Justin J. Swanson of Anaheim.
“I didn't lose a husband, I didn't lose a son ...but my life forever changed that day; I'm not the same human being,” Herzog said of her encounter with Hargrove.
Herzog soon created Honoring Our Fallen, and still wears a dog tag with Swanson's picture around her neck every day.
Honoring Our Fallen holds retreats for widows, mothers, fathers, siblings and children of fallen service members, and throws events throughout the year where those dealing with loss can get to know one another.
“Being for them during the darkest days ... not forgetting that angel anniversary, not forgetting that birthday, and being with them, going back to the cemetery with them,” Herzog explained of her organization's mission. “Helping them as they try to find a ‘new normal,' because their normal will never be the same.”
Herzog was tearful throughout the event and expressed a sense of accomplishment that the Memorial Wall had come to fruition after her organization had worked towards it for four years.
“To look out in front of me and see so many families that I've served and I've made a promise to them,” said Herzog emotionally. “I've always told them, ‘as long as I'm alive on this earth I will do everything that I can to make sure that your sacrifice is not forgotten.'”
More information on Honoring Our Fallen organization
Poems and Videos > Honoring The Fallen | Don't Weep For Me | Remember The Fallen | Tears For Your Fallen
By U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Alexandra Hays
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article