LATHROP – Under an American flag, Rebecca Acosta stands atop a dais and – in front of a display containing more than 5,000 photographs – respectfully says the name of every military man and woman killed since the war on terror began in 2001.
A bell sounds each time Acosta reads a name while looking down at the Remembering Our Fallen display outside Lathrop High School on Thursday.
Lathrop Historical Alliance President Mylissa Stutesman, Trimble, explains the Remembering Our Fallen display outside Lathrop High School.
“The purpose is to bring light, and bring to the public, all of the soldiers that we lost since the war on terror started on Sept. 11, 2001,” Stutesman, one of the event organizers, says.
Gulf War veteran Scott Schneider, 50, stands under a gray sky beside one of the dozens of walls of photographs. Two of the men pictured on the wall served with Schneider in Iraq and both died there. He recalls them while the bell continues to toll.
Sgt. Jeffery J. Hanson, 31, Bertrand, Nebraska, died in a Humvee wreck in Iraq.
“There was a really bad sandstorm and they were out doing a local patrols of the villages within a mile or two of the base,” Schneider says. “They stopped while the sandstorm was at its worst.”
Few Midwesterners know what a sandstorm feels like and Schneider offers a first-hand account.
“The sand just rolls and rolls and rolls, and there’s big clouds of it, and zero visibility. You can stick your hand out in front of you and you can’t see where your hand’s at – it gets that bad there,” he says, remembering. “It’s like being sandblasted. It’s probably 60- or 80-mile-an-hour winds. It does hurt.”
When the storm let up a bit, the Humvee crew drove along what passes for a road in Iraq.
“They don’t have roads like we do,” Schneider says. “It’s... like a tractor path.”
The Humvee is about 8 feet wide and has little room to move on the road, which stood beside a canal and had become narrower than most roads due to erosion.
“The Humvee ended up flipping into the canal,” Schneider says. “It’s full of water. It’s about 9 feet deep.”
The bell tolled again and Acosta continues reading names.
To the left of Hanson’s photograph is the photograph of another man with whom Schneider served, Sgt. Germaine L. Debrow, 33, Omaha. A roadside bomb claimed Debrow’s life. The bomb could have killed Schneider, too.
Debrow drove a Humvee as part of a convoy escort, Schneider says.
“I was actually supposed to be in the vehicle with him on that patrol – I went out with him on patrols quite frequently,” he says. “I ended up getting tasked to do a special project by the sergeant major.”
Debrow’s Humvee went through the first checkpoint without a problem, then a second, and came to within about half an hour of their destination when suprised by an improvised explosive device. He pushes his finger up against Debrow’s image.
“An IED went off and basically spun the Humvee around and engulfed it in flames,” Schneider says. “The gunner that was sitting up in the top hatch was ejected out of there. The other two guys in the Humvee had serious shrapnel wounds and (Debrow) ended up succumbing to his injuries.”
Schneider said he felt bad about not being on the patrol with Debrow.
“But after what had happened, I guess it was God stepping in the way and telling me he wasn’t done with me yet,” he said.
The bell sounded. Names continued to be read.
Schneider says he is glad to have the display available. Many of the photos show people he knew alongside their spouses and children.
“From my perspective, these two (friends) – along with about 11 other ones that I’ve found so far – are people that I personally knew from my unit and my battalion,” he says. “A lot of them are from our metro area. ...
“They did give the ultimate sacrifice and they shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Reading the names of each person killed in the war to defend democratic ideas is customary, Stutesman said. Volunteers take turns reading the names through the day, she said.
“This is so they will not be forgotten,” Stutesman says.
Acosta continues to read.
The bell continues to toll.