Name after name. Page after page. On and on it goes. Name, drumbeat. Name, drumbeat.
It's easy to overlook the fact that U.S. troops continue to fight (and die) in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Especially right now, with national headlines sharply focused on the political turmoil in Washington, D.C. How often do we stop to think about our soldiers? When do we take time to remember those who perished?
Memorial Day's upon us. Now is that time. For the 10th straight year, Tracy Miller of Bend has organized a somber, yet vital event to honor American servicemen and women who have lost their lives in those two countries. Volunteers will gather at Downtown Bend's Troy Field on Monday to literally give them a voice.
It's a simple, touching ceremony. Participants read a list of the fallen soldiers' names, ages and hometowns. After each one comes a drumbeat—each strike of the drum, a reminder of a lost heartbeat. Then comes the next name. And the next. Not until the final name is read does the tribute cease.
There are nearly 7,000 names. It takes 14 hours.
Miller first organized the event in 2008. "The wars had fallen out of the national consciousness," she says. "More people were aware of the doings of the Kardashians than of the loss that was occurring every day." At the time, the media seemed fixated only on two numbers: Five years of war, and approaching 4,000 killed.
"We knew that these two numbers said nothing about this pending 'milestone'—for whomever was number 4,000," she says. "That person was more than that; they most certainly were deeply loved and missed beyond measure by a least one person. Most likely, many."
And that's how Bend's Memorial Day tribute began. One name at a time. Each one has a story, whether it's reported or not. Miller recalls, in that first year, a woman who drove down from Madras to help read. Her brother, Christopher W. Dickison, had been killed in July 2005. The woman, Vicki Bellamy, waited for hours before taking her spot in front of the microphone.
"Vicki read a few names before her brother's," says Miller. "Then she placed some photos of Chris in front of her and began to talk about him. No, not just a number. Chris loved dogs and helping people so his family started a memorial fund in his name—the proceeds of which go to the funding of a seeing-eye dog. Vicki was generous in sharing her pain with us and grateful that we wanted to help remember her little brother."
Even those of us without a personal connection can walk away from this event changed. "To listen to the reading, even for a half hour, one can grasp how wars truly do affect us all," says Miller. "The names come from every state and territory in the U.S. We come to remember them for the sacrifice they made and the sacrifice we made in losing them.
"They were us and we are less for their absence."
Volunteers are still needed for this year's event.
Memorial Day Tribute
"Not Just a Number"
Mon., May 29, 8am-11pm
51 NW Louisiana Ave., Bend