82d forced to expand memorial as war deaths mount
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - When the Army's 82d Airborne Division dedicated a memorial to paratroopers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, organizers believed three sides of a wide granite column would be plenty of space to engrave the names of the fallen.
Three years later, there is no more room.
The last name on the memorial belongs to Sergeant Clayton G. Dunn, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in May 2007. To accommodate the rising number of casualties, military officials have been forced to expand the memorial by adding a granite wall. The wall now has 50 names.
"We can put on as many as we need to now," said retired command Sergeant Major Roger Vickers, who served for 14 years in the 82d. "The hope is we don't ever have to put another name on it at all."
That is unlikely.
The United States has lost more than 4,000 soldiers in Iraq and 800 in Afghanistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The 82d lost 62 paratroopers in 2007, more than in any other year since the wars began. Three separate events in Iraq last year each claimed the lives of seven or more paratroopers from the 82d.
The 82d isn't the only division squeezed for memorial space.
A memorial at Fort Hood in Texas honoring fallen soldiers from the First Cavalry Division, which lost 174 soldiers between the end of 2006 and 2008 as several of its brigades served in Iraq, is filling up, said Dennis Webster, executive director of the First Cavalry Division Association. The names of future soldiers who die in service will have to be engraved on the back side, Webster said.
Tradition usually calls for the construction of memorials to wait until after the conflict has ended. The Vietnam War memorial in Washington opened in 1982, several years after the end of the war. It wasn't until 2004 that the World War II memorial opened nearby.
Webster said he would have preferred to wait before building the First Cavalry's Iraq and Afghanistan memorial at Fort Hood, but many members of the First Cavalry Division Association fought in Vietnam and recalled how they were treated poorly after their return from combat in southeast Asia.
"They were adamant that the veterans of this war are treated properly," Webster said.
The 82d's memorial stands behind the division museum at Fort Bragg and displays the words, "In memory of the Paratroopers who gave their lives in support of the Global War on Terrorism." Last year, some of the 82nd's retired sergeants major and officers raised money to build the wall behind the column once it became clear it would soon be out of room.
The 82d's expanded memorial will be formally unveiled later this month during the division's "All American Week," an observance that traditionally occurs the week before Memorial Day. Hundreds of veterans from the 82d are expected to visit Fort Bragg for the event.
The 82d's First Brigade is still deployed to southern Iraq, and its Third Brigade is training to return to Iraq in the fall.