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November 14, 2011

Veteran's Vision

Carnegie Mellon ROTC Officer Salutes Fallen Heroes

By Heidi Opdyke

MarinesMarine Lt. Col. Stephen Beck has a story to share.

Hundreds of them, unfortunately.

Beck, who joined CMU in 2010, is the executive officer of the Naval ROTC program for Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh and is an associate professor of Naval Science. He wants people to know about the lives of military personnel who are killed during battle.

"A salute to your fallen comrade should take time," is something he told his Marines.

For two years he worked as a casualty assistance calls officer. He knocked on doors and had the mission of sharing news of a soldier's death with family members.

He approached his mission with an idea similar to that of the Hippocratic oath, "First do no harm."

"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. "These slices of reality come over time and with the help and support from others, they eventually help you form an understanding through the pictures revealed to you in your mind and the feelings revealed
to you in your heart.

Marines"Even language that you use can make a huge difference when talking to a father or a mother and what you would say to them."

His 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. Sheeler is now a journalism professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

"He really was an advocate for the families, and in the circumstances where I saw him, they came first. There was no question of 'can I make this happen.' It was 'how do I make this happen?'" Sheeler said. "He felt that he needed to take care of them. In many ways I saw that he was still taking care of them."

Officially his billet has ended, but he continues to stay in touch with the people whose lives touched him.

Veterans at CMU

10 undergraduate students
41 graduate students
11 faculty members
90 staff members 

Jonathan Carreon, a junior  engineering major, created a poster recognizing CMU community members who are veterans. Carreon served in the Navy.
Since then, Beck has worked to find meaningful ways to preserve the memories of service members and honor their families. 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.

In response, he founded Remembering the Brave,, with the goal of remembering heroes.

He works with his group of volunteers during nights, weekends and during periods of leave.

"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 Marines and service members from all the branches, who served with fallen soldiers. They listen to detailed stories of their final moments, and the families are presented with the medals and citations due to the person killed. The black-tie ceremonies that rely on donations have occurred in Colorado, D.C. and California. Next year the plans are to be in Orlando, but in the future, he wants to do one in Pittsburgh.

"The costs are $35,000 to $110,000 per ceremony," he said. "It's powerful but expensive. This is our gift and our thank you back to them."

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 recent one was held in Franklin Park, Pa., where he displayed a portion of his Hall of Heroes project. Donations and an aluminum can drive by Boy Scouts raised enough money to build the first display for a Pa. service member.

The 10- by 8-foot displays are part of a traveling exhibit. Each display includes the fallen hero's name, face and deeds. There's a gold star marking a map where they died. Someday he hopes to have a museum, which could hold six miles of corridors, to honor service members and first responders killed during the global war on terror and tell their stories. The question is if there's an end.

"I want the museum to tell the story from beginning to end, but I don't know whether it's going to have a period or a semicolon at the end of this," he said.

He also wants to have a Hall of Heroes website that's interactive.

"For the high-tech version, I would need help with that," he said.

Beck holds an MBA from Boston University and a master's of military operational art and science degree from the Air Force's Air Command and Staff College in Montgomery, Ala. He is working toward a Ph.D. in organizational management with an emphasis on leadership.

Top left: 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.

Top right: 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.