A US Navy veteran has memorized the full name and rank of 2,200 members of the military who lost their lives in Afghanistan. On Thursday, he paid tribute to the fallen by handwriting each name on a war memorial in Fort Worth, Texas.
Hundreds of spectators watched quietly as Ron White added soldier after soldier to the memorial, entirely from memory. He wrote each name in white ink across a 50-foot long black wall in a painstaking process that took eight hours to complete and included 7,000 words.
ABC News writes that White, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007, first thought of memorizing the names listed on the Vietnam Wall. Instead, he felt it more appropriate to honor the men and women who died during a war he personally served in.
The 39-year-old veteran explains:
“Then I just set out to memorize all the names. The message I wanted to say is, you guys are not forgotten. I’m going to do my part to keep your memory alive, and so that is the message of the wall. You are not forgotten.”
Although White does not possess what is known as a photographic memory, he does use memorization skills in his profession. He participates in public speaking engagements regarding memory improvement and teaches a class on the subject.
The veteran began the process of memorizing the 2,200 names in preparation for his memorial wall project last spring. He used what is known as the loci method, a centuries old mnemonic technique in which a person mentally associates a subject with a specific location in order to commit it to memory.
White was essentially able to associate each person with a place in his hometown. To recall the names, he says he “took an 11-hour mental walk around downtown Fort Worth.”
According to NBC News, White’s efforts received praise from the crowd that gathered to watch. Maryanne Buckner, who lost her grandson, PFC. Austin Staggs, was one of many moved by the gesture:
“It made me real happy to make think that someone is still thinking about our boys that gave their lives. I don’t want him to be forgotten, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that he’s not forgotten. That’s why I’m here today.”
Now that the navy veteran has memorized and shared the 2,200 names with his hometown, he plans to recreate the memorial wall in several additional cities throughout the year.