Each year on Memorial Day, tens of thousands of Americans visit Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington to pay tribute to the men and women who died serving the United States.
For people who are unable to make the trip, a new online memorial provides a unique way to honor those service members who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new Google Earth layer, called Map the Fallen, enables the user to pinpoint where, when, and how each service member died since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. A line connects the service member’s approximate location of death to his or her hometown. The interactive tool — available at mapthefallen.org — also offers a detailed profile of each person. Sean Askay, a Google engineer with no military affiliation who developed the layer in his free time, explains the project on his blog. “I have created a map for Google Earth that will connect you with each of their stories — you can see photos, learn about how they died, visit memorial Web sites with comments from friends and families, and explore the places they called home and where they died,” he writes. The layer works on a timeline system, so it shows each U.S. and coalition troop death chronologically, dating back to the first one in Afghanistan on October 10, 2001. The user can search for a fallen service member by name, age, gender, hometown, or location of death.
Official site: MapTheFallen.org
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“To honor is to remember and to pay tribute,” says CNN’s John King, who debuted the layer Sunday on “State of the Union with John King.” “Some of us probably don’t know that someone we knew long ago went off to Iraq or Afghanistan and didn’t come home. A click on a hometown might bring a sad surprise. Or maybe we do know, but aren’t sure how to put this loss into context, or find a fitting way to pay tribute. With this new layer, help is just a few clicks away,” says King. Watch John King talk about Memorial Day with Iraq war vets » Askay started working on this project about four years ago while in graduate school. He came across the Web site icasualties.org, and was drawn to the stories of the fallen troops. He chose to focus on the U.S. and coalition forces’ deaths. “I recognize that this map is just a slice of the story in these conflicts,” he writes. “The Iraqi and Afghani people have incurred substantial civilian losses through these wars and there are also U.S. and coalition civilians, contractors, and reporters who have died as well.” For Karen Meredith, who found out about the death of her son, Lt. Ken Ballard, on Memorial Day five years ago, it is an emotional tribute that she is thrilled to see up and running. “It’s so important to me for people to know about my son. I found out that Ken was the second person killed in Najaf [Iraq], and I didn’t know that. That’s what this demonstrated. It’s a powerful amount of information,” she told CNN. “I want people to know how Ken lived, not just how he died. And this program allows people to know about him,” she said. Kris Stonesifer is the third soldier on the map. He and fellow ranger John Edmunds were killed in a helicopter accident in Pakistan on October 19, 2001 — part of the U.S. military effort in the Afghanistan war.
Stonesifer’s mother, Ruth, told CNN that this project is a reminder of the true meaning of Memorial Day, which she feels is often overlooked. “As a kid growing up it was the day when the pool opened or when you could wear white to church, all of those superficial kinds of things,” she remembers. “But launching this on Memorial Day weekend really brings it back to the roots of why we live in such a free country and a free society. It’s because these young men and women are willing to step up.”