From 2002-2010, Ron White was a reservist with the US Navy. In 2007, he was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
“The general public doesn’t really understand the scope of the sacrifice that so many families and heroes made.”
White wanted to do his part to honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“If I was a painter, I would’ve painted a portrait. If I was a singer I would’ve written a song…it only made sense to use my memory,” White said in a video made by USAA.
It took him about 10 months to memorize the names of all 2,300 men and women who died in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He memorized them in the order of their death — their rank, first name, and last name– that’s over 7,000 words.
“Every few hours someone will walk by the wall and remind me this is not just 7,000 words — this is their son or daughter,” White said.
He was at USAA Headquarters in Phoenix this week, hand-writing each name, ahead of the Memorial Day holiday. He travels around the country doing this to honor our fallen soldiers. and says he was initially inspired after visiting the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.
“It was just my way to honor them, to say you were significant, your life was important, we honor you and we’re not going to forget you.”
In 2013, the first time White did this in Ft. Worth, Texas, he kept hearing a woman in the crowd saying the name ‘Austin Staggs’. It was the vet’s grandma who came out to see her grandson’s name being written on the wall. White told her it might be four hours before he gets to his name, but she said she’d wait.
By the time he was ready to write ‘PFC Austin Staggs’ on the memorial wall, Staggs’ mom had gotten there too. “She hugged me…she thanked me for not letting people forget about her son,” White said.
“I’ve heard so many different stories… and I’ve become a better person because of it,” he says.
One of those stories that stuck with him over the years was one about a “big, strong guy” whose name he cannot remember. “My brother was a little guy,” a woman visiting the wall once told him. “He’d carry my brother’s back pack and walk in front of him and because he did that my brother is alive today”.
The woman left and White couldn’t remember the fallen hero’s name…but realized later it didn’t matter because “that’s the story of all of them…. all of them carried our backpacks .. all of them went before us and all of them made that sacrifice so that we could live.”
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