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As Iraq Casualties Mount, So Do the Stories We Must Tell

Four years ago we invaded Iraq and today the occupation continues. A new project is working to tell the stories of the service members whose lives have been lost -- in the words of the people who loved them.
 
 
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Spc. Jamaal Addison's mother describes him as an angel. He died on the fourth day of the Iraq war at the age of 22. "He was a hero," she said. "But he was a hero long before he ever got killed in this war."

Her words could also speak for the thousands of others killed in the invasion and occupation of Iraq that began four years ago today. Jamaal's story is one of many captured by a new online video project called Iraq Veterans Memorial -- the latest from director Robert Greenwald and the folks at Brave New Films. [ WATCH]

"While making Iraq for Sale, we were inspired and moved by the soldiers we interviewed. They were young, very smart and extremely patriotic. When we realized the fourth anniversary of the war was approaching, we wanted to do something to honor people like them who were not lucky enough to return home," said Tracy Fleischman of Brave New Films.

"We were inspired by the Vietnam Memorial and the AIDS quilt -- which both bring tremendous loss of life to a human scale. We decided to use our medium -- film -- to create something similar. It was also important to us that politics not be a part of this project; we simply wanted to honor these young men and women and create something people with varying opinions could come together around."

The videos provide a human face, not just of those who have been killed, but of the people they left behind -- brothers and sisters, parents, children, friends, lovers, cousins, comrades. The men and women who were killed were more than service members -- in the words of those who loved them -- they were leaders, ambassadors, peacemakers, superheroes, poets, artists, athletes, dreamers, and jokers.

"By watching the videos, you will have the opportunity to learn about these heroes from those who knew them best -- their family, friends and fellow service members. Each man and woman represented in the memorial had attributes and qualities that made them unique, but they all have one thing in common -- they were truly loved and are deeply missed," wrote Jim Miller of Brave New Foundation.

"There are many other people who have died during the Iraq war -- contractors, Iraqis, service members from other countries -- and many who have been critically wounded. Many heroes have also died and been wounded in Afghanistan. We honor all of these people and their families for the sacrifices that have been made."

Each day the list of casualties from Iraq grows and so do the number of stories that we need to hear about those lost lives. Lt. Kenneth Michael Ballard was 26 when he was killed in Iraq. He was an only child. "Ken will always be the brightest star in my darkest night," his mother said.

Staff Sgt. Paul M. Neff II was 30 when he was killed. His sister Dawn remembers him:

My brother was more than just a name etched in cold stone. And he wasn't just my brother. He was our father's best friend. He was our mother's baby boy. He was a single father, and he was part of a band of brothers ...

The day I heard the news, his helicopter was shot down, I knew he was on it before the call came. There was an instant void. He died doing what he loved. There is some comfort knowing that. The thing that most people remember about Paul is how much he loved life and his infectious smile.

Without Paul in this world, the sun just doesn't shine as bright. He is desperately missed by his family, his friends and most of all his son.

Lt. Seth J. Dvorin was 24. He was married and wanted to have children. PFC Steven F. Sirko was 20 and had "eyes that laugh."

Cpl. Jeffrey Michael Lucey hung himself in his family's home after returning from Iraq. He was 23, and his best friend was his sister Debra.

Cpl. Nicholas Ziolkowski was 22 when he was killed. "I think Nick, it's such a loss, certainly to me personally but would have made such a difference had he lived because he was that kind of person," said his mother.

These are only a few of the thousands of stories that should be heard and shared and remembered. Four years after the invasion, we are still a country at war. The Iraq Veterans Memorial is a glimpse of what the world has lost.

"We hope that the memorial gives people reason to stop for a moment, forget the politics surrounding the war, and honor the memory of the brave young men and women we've lost," said Fleischman.

Host the videos on your website, include them in your candlelight vigils, listen to them on your iPod or contribute one of your own stories about someone you've loved.

Tara Lohan is a managing editor at AlterNet.

 
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