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America Supports You: Naturalized American Honors War Dead

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 4, 2006 – A former illegal alien from Iran who now is an American citizen is showing his love and appreciation for what his adopted country has done for him by building a memorial to honor servicemembers who have died in the global war on terrorism.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
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. Defense Dept. photo by Rudi Williams
  

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

"I designed the Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom to honor our brave servicemen and women who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan," Kevin Roustazad, 46, said shortly before a June 28 candlelight vigil at the memorial outside Eastern Memorials here, the company he owns. "Rather than waiting the usual 20 to 60 years it takes to build memorials like the World War II, Korean and Vietnam Warsmemorials, I've already started construction on the Silent Thunder Memorial."

The memorial is made of the same smooth, shiny black granite stone as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Washington Mall, but it will have additional emotional features.

Roustazad said his creation, a 45,000-pound, seven-foot-tall, 25-foot-long slash of granite, is going to have the name, date, hometown, branch of service, and the last place each fallen servicemember served.

"Above that information there will be a picture of the soldier embedded into the stone," said Roustazad, who came to the United States in 1975 to get an education and became a citizen in 1993. "There's room enough on the stone for 5,600 names and pictures. But I hope that we never have that many."

He said the name for the Silent Thunder Memorial came from the emotion he hopes it will stir in visitors. "When visiting the memorial, if we listen in silence, we shall feel the thunder coming from the thousands of pairs of eyes looking back at us," Roustazad said.

There are no names or pictures on the shiny granite yet, but when it's finished, Roustazad wants it to rest in "a quiet and safe place, because many children are going to come to visit this."

When all the troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, he wants them to know that they were being remembered while the war was still going on, not decades later. "They'll also have a place to visit their fallen friends, because the faces of their friends are going to be embedded into this monument," he noted. "Seeing their friends' names and pictures on the wall will make it much more emotional and personal for them."

The fallen servicemember's names will not be etched on the granite in alphabetical order, he noted. "If a helicopter went down and a number of people died, they will be put together on the stone, regardless of their branch of service," Roustazad said. He emphasized that the memorial is "absolutely nonpolitical."

"It's for enlisted soldiers who gave their lives serving our country," he noted. "And it's for the children so they can look at their dad's or mom's faces."

When he came to the United States from Iran, Roustazad settled in Cheshire, Conn., graduated from Cheshire High School and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in civil engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts.

Roustazad said his first job in the United States was "washing dishes in high school, in college and thereafter - about seven years -- as an illegal alien. I think I washed over a million dishes in this country. I had to feed myself.

"By design, I lived my life like I was a legal person in this country -- I paid my taxes, I paid my dues," he noted.

He moved to Virginia in 1982 to be near his sister, because his visa had expired and he needed help. "I eventually got my green card and because a citizen in 1993," Roustazad said.

He said the Idea to build the memorial came to him last Memorial Day after attending the annual Rolling Thunder Memorial Day ride when thousands of motorcyclists from across the country ride through the nation's capital to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"I remembered seeing three young pregnant women on television next to their toddler children and some still carrying a child in their womb, yet mourning the loss of their husbands," he said.

Roustazad was touched by what he saw. "I knew I had to do something, because these young children needed a place to come to as they grow up to visit their fallen moms and dads," he said.

He opened his wallet and bought the granite and started the project. He estimates that it will cost more than $400,000 to finish building the monument and hopes to raise the money in a special fund.

Roustazad named it Silent Thunder Memorial for Freedom in tribute to the work of Rolling Thunder motocyclists, a group he initially didn't like. "It took me many, many years to understand the purpose of Rolling Thunder," Roustazad said. "For a long time I thought they were cruel because they rode motorcycles. But I finally understood that when the Vietnam veterans came back they were mostly silent. The country had become vocal."

Noting that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are all volunteers, he said they fight the global war on terrorism because they believe in the cause. "They want to go there to help get a democratic government to our region in the Middle East," Roustazad noted. "Their voices are silent, too, but the thunder will never be silent."

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