Remembering the Brave
For years, Marine Lt. Col. Stephen R. Beck, executive officer of Carnegie Mellon University's Naval ROTC program, has been an advocate for families of fallen soldiers.
In 2004, Betty Welke, mother of the late Marine Lance Cpl. Joe Welke, asked him if there was something she could do to help other families.
"I'm not used to saying 'no' to Gold Star mothers," Beck said, referring to a term given to mothers and widows of military personnel who die during war.
So in response, he founded Remembering the Brave, dedicated to preserving the memories of service men and women and honoring their families in their time of enormous loss.
"Their stories deserve to be told. If we don't listen, these stories of heroism will be lost to future generations," Beck said.
The group shares the stories in several ways. An annual ceremony allows families to meet with service members from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, who served with the fallen soldiers. They listen to detailed stories of their loved ones' final moments, and the families are presented with the medals and citations due. These black-tie ceremonies rely on donations and have occurred in Colorado, Washington, D.C., and California.
The group also has organized a Run for Remembrance race in Colorado, scholarships and scores of community events involving memorial displays that share photos and stories.
A race was held recently in Franklin Park, Pennsylvania, where Beck displayed a portion of his Hall of Heroes project. The 10- by 8-foot displays are part of a traveling exhibit that helps to preserve the memories and stories of these brave men and women.
Donations and an aluminum can drive by Boy Scouts raised enough money to build the first display for a Pennsylvania service member. A Gold Star map marks the location where each soldier died.
Beck spent two years as a casualty assistance calls officer, assigned to share news of a soldier's death with the family.
"Understanding and coming to terms with the death of a loved one is very difficult and it comes in slices of reality that hit you at different, often unexpected moments," Beck said. "Even language that you use can make a huge difference when talking to a father or a mother."
Beck's work was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize-winning story in 2006; Jim Sheeler, of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News, followed Beck and his battalion as they worked with families reeling from the loss of a loved one.
"He really was an advocate for the families, and in the circumstances where I saw him, they came first," said Sheeler.
In October 2012, the organization will hold a Legacies of Valor Children's Ceremony in Orlando, Florida.
"Active duty service members will present the children with fully mounted sets of medals representing their parent's service to this nation," said Beck, who is making the plaques himself over the summer. "I'm going to laser-engrave the image of the child's parent on the plaque with a special quote from the parent to the child, and we'll mount the parent's medals above the image."
Meanwhile, the Remembering the Brave Hall of Heroes continues to develop and more people are raising money for more displays.
"I anticipate having four to five more built this summer," said Beck, "and I've been offered land on which to build the Remembering the Brave Hall of Heroes Museum, so if that comes through it will be a very exciting few years ahead."
Pictured above, top photo: During the memorial ceremonies Marines present families with Iraqi voting ballots, a full mounted set of medals and a bouquet of yellow roses that represents the number of years a loved one lived.
Pictured above, bottom photo: The Hall of Heroes, which includes a display for Doc Christopher Anderson of Colorado, was on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps during a Remembering the Brave Ceremony.