As Catherine Carmichael approached the black wall, her eyes scanned the silver handwritten names of the service members killed in Afghanistan.
Ron White Jr. took a break from writing the names from memory to help her locate the name Jeffery Hall.
“Staff sergeant?” White asked.
Carmichael said yes, with a laugh of surprise.
“No. 693,” White said.
Carmichael scanned the numbers, and there was the soldier’s name. She cried as she reached up to touch it.
“I went to his funeral,” she said. “It’s like being at the memorial service all over again.”
Carmichael stopped by the Clear Creek Main Exchange on March 18 when she noticed White’s wall on display near the entrance. The Navy veteran and memory champion spent 10 months memorizing the names of the 2,300 fallen service members in the order they were killed since the war began in 2001. The stop at Fort Hood was part of a 50-city tour White is conducting.
“It makes you proud to know they’re not forgotten,” Carmichael said.
White also served in Afghanistan, and once he got out of the Navy, he said he wanted to do something to remember the fallen.
“I do it (for people) to understand the scope of sacrifice,” he said. “I wanted people to stand back and say, ‘Wow.’”
It takes White about 10 hours to write all the names, including rank, and he remembers them by mapping them to furniture, he said. He first memorized maps of his home, his parents home and other places he frequented. He then mentally places 10 names to a piece of furniture and moves throughout the maps to write the names. Recalling the number associated with a name as he did for Carmichael is simple, but not easy, White said.
His father, Ron White, travels with him and answers questions as people come up to the 52-foot wall.
“To me this tribute is a memorial, so those names are sacred,” he said.
For someone like Carmichael, whose husband deployed to Afghanistan three times, it was shocking to see all the names together.
“I’ve listened to wives talk who did not get to see their husbands come home,” she said. “It’s a nice feeling to know there’s somebody still remembering them.”