Watching The War And Acknowledging The Dead

April 17th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Watching The War And Acknowledging The Dead

New York Times
April 16, 2007
Pg. C4

By Noam Cohen
ON Tuesday morning, Daniel K. Ropkin booted up his computer and confronted a list that was “getting longer,” he said by telephone from his home outside Sacramento. Mr. Ropkin operates “Spread the Word: Iraq-Nam” (, a Web site tracking military deaths in Iraq, and the Defense Department press releases that had accumulated over the last two days announced 18 new fatalities.
“It’s kind of freaking me out,” he said.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first with significant United States military casualties to take place in the Internet age. And while there have been debates over how much public attention to give members of the military who have been killed in combat, a string of Web sites has plunged ahead.
Mr. Ropkin’s self-appointed task involves “looking for the best story, the one that really tells that person’s life, finding a picture,” he said.
For Pfc. Walter Freeman Jr., it was an article from The Colorado Springs Gazette that said: “Three days before he died, 20-year-old Pfc. Walter Freeman Jr. sent a simple online message to the woman he considered his mother: ‘Mom, pray hard.’ ”
For Chief Petty Officer Gregory J. Billiter, from Villa Hills, Ky., it was the writeup in The Cincinnati Post, which ended: “He will be buried in Kentucky, his aunt said, but as of Monday evening, it wasn’t clear where. ‘As you can imagine, nobody has a grave for a 36-year-old man,’ she said.”
Using a few basic Web publishing tools and a broadband connection, sites like Mr. Ropkin’s can keep track of and recognize the dead with a depth that the Pentagon, with its billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of employees, hasn’t nearly matched at its Military Casualty Information page (
Of a different purpose is the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count (, created by a database designer, Michael S. White, from Stone Mountain, Ga. His doggedness in tracking down the specific details of each death, using government press releases and news accounts, allows a visitor to analyze the material in complex and highly specific ways: for instance, how many service members from New York State over 50 have died in hostile actions in Iraq? (One: Sgt. First Class Ramon A. Acevedoaponte, 51, of Watertown, killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee in 2005.)
The site, which Mr. White spends 15 to 20 hours a week updating, often at the expense of time with his family, has one million to two million hits a week, he said, and is regularly used by journalists from The Associated Press, The New York Times and others.
He said some have complained that “it is not personal enough, it’s cold,” and have asked why there aren’t any pictures. “That’s what it is,” he says. “It’s cold, analytical,” adding, “it’s like you put gloves on and are going into an analytical room.”
The Iraq Page ( is the obsession of Tom Willett, a software developer from Bloomington, Ind. The site includes a single news account for each United States service member killed in combat, with a fluttering American flag next to a photograph, and room for comments. At last count, there were 3,579 individuals memorialized from the coalition forces, 3,313 from the United States.
“I copy most of the articles, because I know the articles won’t be there in a few months,” he said. “I don’t have the copyright. I steal it from everybody, and I don’t care who knows about it.” The site, which Mr. Willett said had 2,000 to 3,000 unique visitors a day and 20 to 30 new comments a day, has never been asked to take down an article.
There are few negative comments, he said. “I get about as much negative comments from liberals — ‘Why don’t you put the deaths of the civilians in Iraq?’ I said if you could give me the names, I would; and if you don’t like it the way I do it, you can do it yourself.”
The few “military supporters” who criticize, he said, accuse him “politicizing the deaths — I say, no, even someone who opposes the war can honor the dead.”
The creator of the Iraq War Heroes site ( is from Portland, Ore., who goes by the name Q Madp and repairs computers. He said he created it “two days before the war started, to make sure all these guys are recognized — I don’t want them to be trashed like they were in Vietnam.”
Iraq War Heroes may be considered a local Web site, if that it isn’t an oxymoron. On either side of the names of the fallen are picture links that take a visitor to photographs made by Q Madp at funerals that he could drive to. So far that is more than 150 ceremonies, he said.
He said he works with the casualty assistance officer and always obtains the family’s permission in advance. He said the site costs him about $300 to $400 a month, not including his time. “I don’t get a lot of donations, but if I show up for a funeral, people help me cover my gas sometimes,” he said.
He said that recently at a military funeral he ran into the mother of a soldier whose funeral he had photographed three years earlier who had never contacted him about the photographs.
“Way back then she didn’t want the pictures,” he said. “Now she did.”
Leonard Wong, a research professor at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., who has studied the efforts of the United States military in recent years to recover the remains of service members killed in combat, said that the need to memorialize nationally, even globally, each and every service member is a relatively recent concern.
“The Vietnam memorial put every name on the wall,” he said. “I think with the Internet, it’s not just their name on a wall; we have a life.”
Recalling how inWorld Wars I and II soldiers were often buried near where they fell, Dr. Wong said: “We as a society, back then, were content to be more anonymous. We weren’t a global society. There was no expectation that you would be known beyond your town.” Now, he says, we hear the call, “Don’t forget me.”

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