Spc. Ember Alt. Lt. Jason Togi. Sgt. Lyle Turnbull.
Three names, three soldiers, three heroes.
All lost their lives in 2013 in service to their country while deployed to Afghanistan.
On Monday, a polished black granite stone bearing their names and photographic likenesses will be dedicated during a Memorial Day ceremony at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery south of Killeen.
The three names will be the fewest number added in a year since 2007 — the original dedication date for the Central Texas Fallen Heroes Memorial, honoring Central Texas service members who died in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. Last year, six names were added to the memorial, representing combat deaths recorded in 2012.
As the U.S. military has turned over responsibility to Afghan army troops, the number of American casualties steadily declined over the past year — indeed, a gratifying development.
But as Monday’s dedication ceremony graphically illustrates, our military mission is not yet over. Our military personnel — including some from Fort Hood and Central Texas — continue to give their lives in defense of our country.
This Memorial Day will mark the seventh consecutive year in which the memorial has added a stone honoring those who have fallen in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The names and photographs etched into the granite slates now number more than 600.
Over the past 11 years, the number of Central Texans who have given their lives in service to our nation is humbling. But the service of the three individuals we honor this year should be held in equally high regard. No matter how large or how small the number of combat casualties in any given year, we must do all we can to honor their service and sacrifice.
Already this weekend, Central Texans have paid their respects to our fallen heroes with parades, speeches and other observances.
On Monday, residents across Central Texas will continue to commemorate our service members’ sacrifices with special programs at cemeteries and war memorials across the area.
On this solemn weekend, we honor not only those who have fallen in combat in the past year, but all service members who have died in service to our nation.
We pay tribute to these heroes with several time-honored traditions — the posting of colors, proclamations, speeches, the playing of taps, and a 21-gun salute. Perhaps most symbolic is the laying of wreaths by our veterans organizations — a show of respect and solidarity between service members of all generations.
In that context, the addition of three more names this year should serve as a solemn reminder that our servicemen and women still stand in harm’s way, as they have for more than 200 years. Because of their willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice, we continue to enjoy the rights and freedoms our nation embodies.
Perhaps the most important part of our Memorial Day observances is the invocation. As we honor the service of our fallen service members, we must continue to pray for their families, their friends, their communities — and indeed, for our nation.
Over the years our nation’s veterans have served with honor, with courage and with selfless dedication to duty. To those who have fallen in service to their country, we owe a debt we can never repay.
But we can take time this weekend to honor their service and offer our thanks. It’s the very least we can do.
And we can start by remembering three brave Central Texas soldiers who gave their lives last year.