National ‘Remembering Our Fallen’ memorial stops in Ridgecrest

National ‘Remembering Our Fallen’ memorial stops in RidgecrestPictured: Patriot Guard Riders and emergency service vehicles escort the “Remembering Our Fallen” exhibit down China Lake Boulevard. The memorial will remain on display through Jan. 25. — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

“Some day soon, perhaps in 40 years, there will be no one alive who has ever known me. That’s when I will be truly dead – when I exist in no one’s memory...Whose death will make me truly dead?”

– Irvin D. Yalom

Nearly 5,000 faces adorn the Remembering Our Fallen memorial towers currently housed in the Kerr McGee Community Center – the faces of sons, daughters, husbands, wives and friends who have fallen to the terrors of war since 9-11. But the names and faces will never be forgotten, thanks to the efforts of ROF and military families across the nation.

The photographic war memorial includes the names and pictures of servicemen and women who succumbed to their wounds, physical and psychological, in the War on Terror since Sept. 11, 2001.

Unlike many other memorials, the ROF memorial’s purpose is to be moved from place to place. It was unveiled only in September last year, and Ridgecrest is one of the lucky first few cities to host the display.

“The people in the city of Ridgecrest, we need to thank them,” said Mike Cash, founder of Operation Family Fund. “It’s an honor to be part of this and to support this.”

Cash helped bring the memorial to town, but said he wouldn’t have been able to secure an appropriate venue for the display without the support from the community.

He also thanked the Patriot Guard Riders for escorting the memorial towers from Pasadena, where they were on display at the Rose Bowl.

“You walk around in here and you see the faces of our brightest and our best – some of them younger, some of them older. They were there by choice,” said Mayor Peggy Breeden, who lost her husband in the Vietnam War.

“They weren’t drafted like they were so many wars ago. They chose to serve. That is not easily done. And I am so grateful for the families that won’t allow us to forget for one minute what they gave us.”

In addition to several other members of the city council, Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason, a Desert Storm veteran, was also present to pay his respects.

“There’s more than just people doing their job,” said Gleason. “They were standing up for something. This country was born to be great, to be exceptional. We stand for what’s right and we have people who back it up.”

Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake Commanding Officer Paul Dale said the memorial was a good opportunity to take a break from the “hustle and bustle” of our everyday lives to reflect on the price of our nation’s freedom and security.

“Remain ever vigilant,” he said. “Pause. That’s what this memorial provides for those who seek it out. Pause from the deluge of daily activity. We must never forget.”

“At your stroll among the towers, take the time to let these soldiers touch your lives,” said Nola Fritz, a Gold Star Mother from Omaha, the original home of the ROF memorials. “If words tell a story, so much more is told by the pictures on these towers. Let them be remembered. Say their names. Remember these soldiers as heroes.”

As community leaders, veterans and other members of the community somberly wandered through the sea of fallen heroes, many stopped to speak and hear the stories of those present who lost loved ones. Lydia Gomez, mother to 2nd Class Petty Officer Mark Vargas, U.S. Navy, who died just a few days shy of his 31st birthday, was one who shared her story.

“I know that there won’t be any more physical memories – times I’ll get to spend with Mark. But now every time there’s something like this, I get to share his story with people,” she said. “It becomes like a new memory I get with him.”

One of Vargas’s pictures on the memorial shows him with a big backpack, standing next to a costumed character at Disneyland.

“He was a medic,” said Gomez. “He took that backpack everywhere with him. If he was driving out of town, it was in the seat behind him.”

She said he was always ready to help someone in need, and had been that way ever since he was a young boy.

“You know when there’s a school program that your child is in? It’s like I get to feel that all over again. I’m so proud,” she said.

The display is open until Jan. 25. For more information visit www.rememberingourfallen.org.

Story First Published: 2018-01-05