COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As we remember our fallen military members on Memorial Day, one Afghanistan veteran is making sure he remembers the men and women lost in the war in Afghanistan with a very special tribute.
He has memorized their names. Every single one.
Navy veteran Ron White is putting his extraordinary talents as a memory expert to use in memorizing the names and ranks of the more than 2,300 servicemembers who lost their lives in Afghanistan, and is writing them all out in the chronological order of their deaths.
“I was looking at the Vietnam wall and I wondered how long it would take me to memorize,” White told KKTV. “Then it clicked in my head: I should do Afghanistan because that’s where I served.”
So for the next 10 months, White set out to commit each one to memory.
“23-hundred plus people: rank, first name, last name, it’s 7,000 words,” White said. “It’s just my way to honor them. To say ‘you were significant. Your life was important and we honor you and we’re not going to forget you.'”
He then embarked on a cross-country tour in which he writes the names on a 52-foot wide traveling wall.
“Every few hours somebody will walk by that wall and remind me: this is not just 7,000 words. This is their son or daughter,” White said.
The process has become somewhat of a stoic performance art piece, a moving tribute and a labor of love for those who gave all for their country.
“The first time I wrote it out was February 28, 2013, so I’ve been doing this for three years,” White recalled.
In the above video, posted on May 25, 2015, White recalls an emotional moment when he was writing and he heard someone nearby saying the name Austin Staggs.
“Ma’am, that’s a name that’s on my wall. Do you know Austin Staggs?” White asked the woman watching him write. “She said, ‘yes, I do. He was my grandson. I came out here to see you write his name,’ and I said, ‘it’s going to be about 4 hours before I get to his name,’ and she said, ‘well, I’ll wait.'”
The woman stayed with White the entire time he wrote, and just before he got to Staggs, he said, “sorry it took so long.”
“I’m glad it did. His mom is here now. She drove out here. It gave her time to get here,” Stagg’s grandmother said.
White recalls more emotional memories of his touring wall in the video.
His work is a tireless effort to make sure that no matter what, although those military members are lost, they will never be forgotten.