On Memorial Day, remember to say their names

By Matthew Young, RealWV

Today is Memorial Day – the day when we remember the sacrifice made by the brave women and men who have given more of themselves than should ever be asked. As such, there is no better day than today for us to say Rob’s name…  

A member of the West Virginia National Guard, Staff Sgt. Rob Cunningham died a hero in 2018. I had both the honor and the privilege of meeting his mother, Terry, on November 13, 2021. It was an unexpected meeting, but it had a profound impact on me nonetheless.

The Gold Star Families Memorial Monument at the W.Va. State Capital. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Terry never called her son Robert – this must be strictly understood. But when she spoke of him, she did so with an unenviable pride that comes with the receipt of a Gold Star, and Terry stressed the importance of saying Rob’s name. On that chilly November day, Terry shared with a room filled with Gold Star families the tragedy of “dying two deaths.” The first death, as Terry explained, is the physical death. The second death comes when the world stops saying the name of the person who died. 

Like so many of our veterans, Rob could not overcome the enemy that returned home with him. The sun has now set 1,407 times since Rob gave his last full measure of devotion to all of us. Let us continue to say his name, because surely one death is enough. 

While comprehensive data regarding our Military Veterans who’ve succumbed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is becoming more accessible as understanding of the condition grows, gathering it remains extraordinarily difficult. For now at least, remembering these brave Americans remains the mission of all of us whose freedom has been paid for by their sacrifice. So today, and everyday, let’s say Rob’s name – let’s say all of their names.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a total of 20,218 West Virginians have volunteered to serve our country and defend our way of life. Of those who have served, the Department of Defense reports that 40 of our mothers and fathers, brothers and sister, sons and daughters, and friends and neighbors were killed in battle between Afghanistan and Iraq. Their names are:

  • Bobby Edward Beasley, Berkeley County.
  • Julian Lee Guthrie Berisford, Marshall County.
  • Brent Scott Cole, Preston County.
  • Andrew Martin Harper, Monongalia County.
  • Charles John McClain, Brooke County. 
  • Daniel Frederick Mehringer, Monongalia County.
  • Nicholas Heath Null, Wood County.
  • Nicholas Jamie Scott, Clay County.
  • Anissa Ann Shero, Taylor County.
  • Jeffrey Scott Taylor, Raleigh County.
  • Justin Tyler Thacker, Mercer County.
  • Lawton Garrett Tucker, Kanawha County. 
  • Gene Arden Vance, Jr., Monongalia County.
  • Robert Frank White, Kanawha County.
  • Thomas Randolph Wilson, Monongalia County.
  • Jeremy Alexander Brown, Raleigh County.
  • John Thomas Byrd II, Marion County.
  • Adam Joseph Crumpler, Kanawha County.
  • Danny Bruce Daniels II, Mingo County.
  • William Bradley Fulks, Cabell County.
  • Richard William Hafer, Kanawha County.
  • Matthew David Hunter, Ohio County.
  • Romulo Jose Jiminez II, Barbour County.
  • Brian Christopher Karim, Summers County.
  • Jason Nicholas Marchand, Doddridge County.
  • Otie Joseph McVey, Fayette County.
  • Bradley Lee Parker, Marion County.
  • Stanley Bryan Reynolds, Mercer County.
  • Bryan James Richardson, Nicholas County.
  • Stephen Albert Seale, Taylor County.
  • Michael Jason Slater, Putnam County.
  • Ernest Harold Sutphin, Wood County.
  • Deforest Lee Talbert, Kanawha County.
  • Duane Anthony Thornsbury, Harrison County.
  • Benjamin David Tiffner, Roane County.
  • Roger Clinton Turner, Jr., Wood County.
  • Brian Scott Ulbrich, Logan County.
  • Darren Dale Vankomen, Raleigh County.
  • Joshua Shane Wilfong, Wood County.
  • David Edward VanCamp, Ohio County. 

Now that you have read the list of names, I would ask you to read it again. Please add Rob’s name, and the names of any other heroes who I did not know to include.  But this time, please stand if you are able, and read it out loud. 

And if it’s not too much of an imposition, please read it again tomorrow. They’ve died for us once already. Let us continue to say their names, because surely one death is enough. 

All memorial photos taken at West Virginia State Capital Complex in Charleston.

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