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Intelligence Specialist Creates Temporary Afghanistan Monument from Memory | Community Spirit

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Intelligence Specialist Creates Temporary Afghanistan Monument from Memory
Intelligence Specialist Creates Temporary Afghanistan Monument from Memory

 

By Kevin Lilley
Air Force Times

Ron White once memorized a deck of cards in 87 seconds.

That’s every card, every suit, in every position in the deck — No. 1 through No. 52 — in less than a minute and a half. It was, at the time, an American record.

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Military Times’ searchable database of Iraq and Afghanistan casualties:www.militarytimes.com/valor

More on Ron White’s Afghanistan Memory Wall:www.americasmemory.com

White, a former reserve intelligence specialist first class, deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 as an individual augmentee. Back home again, he walked by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and wondered to himself, “What will the Afghanistan monument look like?”

On Feb. 28 in Fort Worth, Texas, he built a temporary one from memory: about 2,200 names, handwritten in white, on a 50-foot-wide, 7-foot-tall wall.

“It took me 11 hours,” said White, a two-time national memory champion who has made media appearances for his recollecting skills. “No bathroom breaks.”

The process began May 1, when he began memorizing the names from a book he carried everywhere. It was the largest memory project he’d ever undertaken; he started www.americasmemory.com to outline his effort and solicit donations for the Wounded Warrior Project. He also sells a memory-improvement system to those who register at the site — all profits from those sales, he said, go to wounded warriors.

The wall-writing went off without a hitch, but one memory stands out for the memory champ. A spectator arrived and asked when he’d be writing the name of Army Pfc. Austin Staggs, who died from small-arms fire in an insurgent attack in Nangarhar province in November 2010.

White asked the woman whether she knew Staggs.

“He was my grandson,” she replied. “I came out here to watch you write his name.”

White told the woman it would be at least two more hours. She sat down in a chair and waited. About three hours later, he told her, “Ma’am, I’m about 10 minutes away,” and apologized for the delay. She said it was fine; it had given Staggs’ mother time to come and watch the name go up.

Others stopped by to pay tribute to family members and those they had served with. White finished the list, stepped away from the wall and saluted.

“It was emotionally draining, physically and mentally,” he said.

He plans to repeat the performance March 19 in San Antonio. He’d also like to write out the names in other locations around the nation throughout the year. He’s considering creating a permanent wall — the one in his Fort Worth hometown is already down — but said plans are in the very early stages.

Right now, it’s about finding more places to write the names, which White, 39, said gives him a chance to identify with the fallen and hold a personal connection to the notion of wartime sacrifice.

“Literally,” he said, “they are not forgotten.”

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