Ten black granite memorial plaques etched with the names of those who died in post-9/11 conflicts were unveiled at Rosie the Riveter Park this Memorial Day. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
A wall memorializing the nearly 7,000 American service members who sacrificed their lives in wars waged since 9/11 was unveiled at Rosie the Riveter Park in Long Beach yesterday. Ten black granite slabs replaced the ivy that once adorned a 1,200 foot section of the pre-existing wall at the park, each one containing the engraved names of those who died over the past 15 years, including 15 servicemen from Long Beach.
The wall was the brainchild of Long Beach resident Laura Herzog, who helped co-found a group called Honoring Our Fallen (HOF), which focuses on supporting the families of those service members who were killed in action or training exercises while serving the country in the years since the terrorist attacks in New York City.
HOF provides a variety of services for survivors, including a children’s bereavement program that sends gifts during the holidays, birthdays and even helps with school supplies and offers various retreats for surviving family members. Its “Flag for Every Hero” program executed its goal this weekend in placing over 250,000 miniature flags at grave sites at Riverside National Cemetery.
But the wall was a mission unlike any other undertaken by the group.
Herzog has spent the better part of two years gathering the necessary donations to construct the 1,200-foot living memorial to those lost in the country’s most recent military conflicts, one that’s believed to be the only fixed memorial in the country dedicated to Iraq-Afghanistan casualties. The culmination of her efforts came yesterday when marines pulled back the tarps covering the eastern wall at Rosie the Riveter Park to reveal 10 black granite slabs with the names of the fallen etched onto them.
“It’s a blessing to see so many families that I’ve served here today, seeing their loved one’s name,” Herzog said. “To them, every day is Memorial Day. It’s beautiful for them to see it and I”m thankful that this is happening.”
A few hundred people were on hand for the unveiling ceremony Monday, but the day started much earlier.
At 6:00AM, fully-uniformed armed service members began to recite the names of all 6,864 service members whose names are included on the memorial wall, an exercise that lasted just short of six and a half hours. When the tarps were lifted the crowd moved in to get a closer look, some looking for the names of their loved ones, touching the part of the wall where their names will be kept forever in stone.
The quest to build the wall—which cost about $55,000 to build and still requires some future financing to complete—started in November 2009 when Herzog was sent on her first casualty mission.
Sitting in the living room of Mary Hargrove, who had just lost her 21-year-old son to the battlefield, Herzog said she reflected on her own son, who’d be the same age as Hargrove’s if he were alive today. She said she needed to make sure that no family who had suffered that kind loss would ever feel like their loved one's sacrifice was forgotten.
“As long as I’m breathing on this Earth, I will do everything that I can to ensure that your loved ones are not forgotten,” Herzog said. “The fact that this wall is here is proof of that.”
The wall will eventually include the names of canines and veterans of these wars that are lost to suicide. The names are listed in chronological order with the last casualty on the northern part of the wall being that of Petty Officer First Class Charles Keating IV, a Navy SEAL who was killed this month in Northern Iraq fighting the Islamic State.
Rosie the Riveter was a symbol of those women that went to work when so many troops were shipped overseas to fight during World War II. The park serves as a commemoration of those women and as well as a lasting reminder of Long Beach service members lost to combat deployments in Iraq-Afghanistan. The city’s Hometown Heroes Project hangs banners with the names of Long Beach residents that have been killed in action. That combined with the relative serenity of the location made it the right place for the permanent memorial that remembers the fallen Herzog said.
“This is the perfect place,” Herzog said. “There’s no basketball courts, there’s no soccer fields, no football field, this is just a quiet place where we can make sure that we list the names of not only the Long Beach heroes that are on these banners, but all of our nation’s fallen.”