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America Supports You: Silent Thunder Memorial Honors Fallen

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

MANASSAS, July 2, 2006 – Under the cover of darkness, more than 100 people lit candles June 28 during a vigil at the Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom here, which is being built to honor the fallen from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Kevin Roustazad, creator of the Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom, chats with Beth Jones, 17, a member of the Navy Junior ROTC at Osbourn Park Senior High School in Manassas, Va., where she's a senior. Jones is holding the folded American flag for a June 28 candlelight vigil ceremony at the memorial. Photo by Rudi Williams
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The 45,000-pound, 25-foot-long slash of shiny, black granite sits outside Eastern Memorials, which is owned by Kevin Roustazad and Andy Del Gallo.

"This began with an idea by Kevin Roustazad, who was born in Iran and moved into the United States when he was 15 -years old," said the candlelight vigil's master of ceremonies, Troy D. Tanner. "This memorial is his way of giving something back to the United States, a country which has given him so much love in his life. This memorial will be a place of reflection for the families of the heroes that have given their lives."

He said the memorial's board of directors plans to have the memorial placed in a prominent area in Prince William County, Va., between Quantico and Fort Belvoir. "We're also planning a mobile memorial, which will travel around the country."

With room to etch up to 5,600 faces into the granite wall, Tanner said the face of each serviceman and woman killed in the global war on terrorism will be depicted with biographical information written below the face.

"There will be faces to look at, not just names," he emphasized.

Tanner said Roustazad wants the memorial to become a place for the families of the fallen to reflect on the loss of their loved ones.

"We don't want to wait 20, 30 or 40 years to do it," said Dr. Jim Thurman, the memorial's chairman of the board and chief executive officer. "We want this to be a living memorial. It took a long time to build the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and we don't want to wait that long."

Reminding the audience that "freedom is not free," Rev. C. Wesley Conner, the event's keynote speaker, said Americans should try to remember the men and women who have given their all, because America called them to fight in this global war on terrorism.

"America's finest are fighting to maintain the security and the freedom that we so richly enjoy, and, unfortunately, many times take for granted," he said. "Moreover, the global war on terrorism is a much different kind of war than what the United States has ever fought. It also has produced its share of casualties."

He said the granite stone is going to be a worthy reminder for generations to come of those who have given their all in the global war on terrorism.

"The suffering has been theirs, the memories shall be ours," the retired Army chaplain said. "As long as American stands, we will never forget the sacrifices of those who have gone before us and those who have given their all."

Noting that "we have memorials to recall those who have given all," Conner said Americans also can and must be willing to do something for the men and women "still serving on the frontiers of freedom."

"As a nation, we must pray for those whose lives are in danger," he said.

The pastor recalled the gratitude he felt from the letters he received from people telling him they were praying for his welfare and his safety while he was serving.

"We must pray for the troops and their friends and families left behind," Conner said. "Separation from loved ones is the No. 1 heartache in every soldier's life - friends, finances, spouses, children, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers."

Conner told of a deployed soldier's telephone conversation with his 5-year-old daughter. He said the girl asked her father, "When are you coming home Daddy?"

"He replied, 'It will be about six or seven more months, honey,'" Conner told the gathering at the candlelight vigil. "She said, 'Daddy, is that tomorrow?' His heart sank and he had to say, 'No, honey, that's not tomorrow,'" Conner said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDarin and Virginia Brooks stand at attention during the national anthem at a June 28 candlelight vigil ceremony at the Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom in Manassas, Va. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imagePipe Sergeant Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Cochran of the Coast Guard Pipe Band plays "Amazing Grace" during the presentation of the flag at a June 28 Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom candlelight vigil in Manassas, Va. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageTrumpeter Matthew Vangjel plays "Taps" at a June 28 Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom candlelight vigil in Manassas, Va. Vangjel said he wants to join a military band, following in the footsteps into the armed forces by his father, who served in Iraq, and his brother, who served in Afghanistan. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDr. Jim Thurman, chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer of the Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom, told the audience during a June 28 candlelight vigil that the memorial in Manassas, Va., honors the more than 2,800 U.S. servicemembers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo by Rudi Williams   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLinda Morgan of Montclair, Va., who lost a son in Iraq, lights a candle during a June 28 candlelight vigil at the Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom in Manassas, Va. The memorial is being built to honor the fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan. Helping with the candle lighting are Sara Belt, center, and Heather Ours, both 10th graders in the Junior ROTC program at Manassas's Osbourn Park High School. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRetired Army Maj. Rev. C. Wesley Conner gave a keynote address titled "Praying for Those in Harm's Way" during a June 28 candlelight vigil at the Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom in Manassas, Va. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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