A Virtual Way to Honor the Fallen on Memorial Day

Michael Santo's picture

Monday is Memorial Day, the day we Americans honor those who have fallen in defense of this country. And for those who can't make the trip to Arlington National Cemetary just outside of Washington, DC, there's a new virtual way to pay tribute to the fallen, via Google Earth.

On Sunday, Sean Askay, a Google engineer released a Google Earth layer, called Map the Fallen, that contains detailed information on the nearly 5,700 service members who died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

The layer enables a user to pinpoint where, when, and how each service member died, and a line connects a service member's approximate location of death to his or her hometown. Detailed profiles of each person are offered as well.

It's a personal project of Askay's, and here's how he describes it:

This Memorial Day I would like to share with you a personal project of mine that uses Google Earth to honor the more than 5,700 American and Coalition servicemen and women that have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have created a map for Google Earth that will connect you with each of their stories—you can see photos, learn about how they died, visit memorial websites with comments from friends and families, and explore the places they called home and where they died. [...]

For this project I collected information from a number of sources, including the Department of Defense's Statistical Information Analysis Division, icasualties.org, MilitaryTimes.com's Honor the Fallen, Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen, the Iraq and Afghanistan Pages, and Legacy.com. I used the Google Maps and GeoNames.org geocoding services to get coordinates for each person's home of record and approximate place of death. The map includes data through March 2009. I'd like to point out the incredible time commitment the above organizations invest in maintaining this information; as I've learned, it is not an easy task. All of the data I have assembled and generated for this project is freely available for download.

During this project, I have sought the advice and perspectives of several groups directly tied to these losses, including Gold Star families, veterans' groups, active-duty servicemen and women, and leadership in the United States Army. I've done my best to incorporate their feedback and suggestions in creating something that pays tribute to the memory and service of these fallen heroes. Out of respect for the families of those people on this map who have taken their own lives, I have chosen to describe these deaths as coming from "non-combat" related causes. This is a broad category used by the Department of Defense to define other causes of death resulting from accidents or illness.

The layer requires Google Earth 5.0 or later. Assuming you already have the software installed, you download the "Map the Fallen" layer linked above and open it. The layer will be loaded and you can browse the information of those fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It's an impressive task, and although Askay has already found one bug, it's a great project. I recommend you take the time to examine at least part of the project as we pay tribute to our war dead on Memorial Day.

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