Facebook status update on June 15, 9:51 p.m.:
DOD announced today the
death of a soldier. Sgt. Mario Rodriguez,
24, of Smithville, Texas, died
June 11 in Powrak, Afghanistan, “of
wounds sustained when insurgents
attacked his unit using small arms
and rocket-propelled grenade fires.”
He was assigned to the 264th Clearance
Company, 27th Engineer Battalion
(Combat) (Airborne), 20th
Engineer Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C.
For the past year and a half, I’ve been posting Department of Defense casualty alerts to remind me — and my 2,400 or so “friends” on Facebook — of the human beings behind the statistics of American losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent weeks, a woman named Pat McDermott Nixon has added an update of her own after each of my posts about fallen Americans.
Nixon’s Facebook comment on June 15, 9:56 p.m.:
Sgt. Mario Rodriguez, 24, left
behind a wife and 7-year-old
daughter. His was the fourth active
duty death from Smithville (a town
of fewer than 5,000) in four years —
three in the last year alone.
She listed the three other residents’ names and when they died.
After I thanked her, Nixon explained in a second post that she often did “a little search to discover something more personal” about each American who dies.
“Tonight,” she added, “I decided to post what I’d found.”
Thus began an online partnership with a woman I never have met. I post the latest DOD announcement, and Nixon almost always follows up with a bio and a link to the obituary.
Earlier this week, I decided to find out more about this 62-yearold woman in Strongsville, Ohio. Why was she willing to do this?
“At first, I was reading the posts and saying the names aloud to myself,” she said. “Saying their ages, too. I have three boys, ages 29, 25 and 22.”
She started researching the names of the fallen online.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the micro of life rather than the macro,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan. We can become so insulated by where we live and who we know — and don’t know.”
Nixon is a retired children’s librarian, so research is a lifelong habit. But there’s more to her story. She came of age during the Vietnam War, and as we talked, she recalled another list of names — and faces — that may have planted the seeds for her current practice of honoring the fallen.
She was a young elementary school teacher in Cleveland when the June 27, 1969, issue of Life magazine devoted 12 pages to 242 young men who had died in Vietnam in a single week, from May 28 to June 3. Nine of them were from Ohio, which ranked fifth in the number of Vietnam deaths by the time the war was over.
“We must pause to look into the faces,” read the introduction to Life’s photo gallery, which listed each man by name, age, rank and hometown. “More than we must know how many
, we must know who
. The faces of one week’s dead, unknown but to families and friends, are suddenly recognized by all in this gallery of young American eyes.”
You can find that Life issue online at tiny.cc/VIETNAM. The article starts on Page 20.
Forty-one years later, Nixon still remembers looking at those pages of young faces, reading each name and age aloud and feeling “a deeper awareness of the loss.” Now she publishes her own version of a gallery, one bio at a time.
On Tuesday, July 20, I paused in writing this column to post the following DOD alert on Facebook:
Sgt. Justin B. Allen, 23, of Coal
Grove, Ohio, died July 18 in Zhari,
Afghanistan, “of wounds suffered
when he was shot by insurgents while
conducting combat operations.”
Another Ohio boy.
A few minutes later, Pat Mc- Dermott Nixon posted an excerpt from his obituary in The Ironton
In November Justin was going
to marry his fiancee, Kimberly
Schwartz, whom he had met when
she moved to Lawrence County
from Florida. “She had already
bought her dress,” (his mother)
The last time Bonnie saw her
son was this spring when he came
home between deployments. She
wants her son to be remembered
for his generosity, honesty and
It was Sgt. Allen’s fourth tour of duty.