ANNAPOLIS, Md. — At night once he has put his young sons to sleep, Pat McConnell catalogs the stories of all 2,600-plus men listed in the Naval Academy’s Memorial Hall, where alumni who died while serving their country are recorded.
McConnell, a 2002 graduate, is the lead editor for USNA Virtual Memorial Hall, a website created by the charity Run to Honor that uses a Wikipedia-style format to share information and memories about the alumni.
The purpose is to put a face and a story behind the names in granite.
McConnell has seen the impact the stories have on others. A couple years ago Run to Honor invited a woman whose father was a 1960s-era graduate to its annual Memorial Dinner. Her father was killed in a plane crash when she was still very young, McConnell said, and at the dinner she got to sit with his classmates and learn more about him. He wants to capture stories like those in the website.
“To see how she was able to get so much out of such a short amount of time was pretty awesome, and also kind of keeps me motivated to keep doing this,” he said.
Dave Richardson, Run to Honor’s president, said Memorial Hall is the most sacred place on the yard.
“There are not just 2,660 names currently in Memorial Hall, but 2,660 stories behind those names,” Richardson said in an email. “These men and women that made the ultimate sacrifice represent the highest ideals of the Naval Academy and our nation. All of the stories behind those names need to be captured, told, and remembered by future generations.”
On the walls of the hall are plaques for each class year, along with a list of alumni from that year who were killed in action, missing in action or who died while they were forward deployed, preparing for deployment or in training. Ornate marble surrounds the names, inset with paintings of Naval war ships.
In the center of the hall a flag is displayed — “Dont Give Up the Ship” — and below it in a glass case are the names of men and women either killed or missing in action, along with the war they fought in.
When the nonprofit first took on the project in the spring of 2016, McConnell said they went from plaque to plaque taking photos to get the fallen sailors’ names, then got to work researching.
Sometimes it’s easy to find information on how the person died — other times he has found himself solving a mystery. Finding that one breadcrumb that points you in the right direction can be difficult, he said.
Many class organizations have the information he’s seeking, and have helped out, updating pages and providing details. They’re also hoping to hear from sponsor families.
Marine Corps Capt. Brandon A. Barrett, a 2006 graduate, “sent letters to the parents of the men he was leading, assuring them he would take care of their sons during his first tour in Afghanistan” according to his page on the site. He was successful. On his second tour, he was killed May 5, 2010 while conducting combat operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the page.
Marine Corps Capt. Seth Michaud, a 1998 graduate, was an Eagle Scout and built “awesome” Lego spaceships with his father as a boy. His sister submitted a remembrance for the page on Memorial Day saying one of her favorite memories is growing up in the room next to his. When he was home from college she would sit on her bed at night and listen to him play the guitar, bounce a ball off the wall and talk with his girl, Karen. Michaud was killed by friendly fire in Africa, according to the page.
When adding names to the site, McConnell started with the class of 2010 and has worked backward through the class of 1938, so far. The Naval Academy was founded in 1845.
Sitting in Memorial Hall on a recent Monday, McConnell discussed the project while sitting feet away from a slab bearing four names from his own class of 2002: Navy lieutenants Nicolas J. Juron, Richard F. Andersen, Jr. and John J. Houston, and Marine Corps Capt. Matthew C. Freeman.
He didn’t know any of those men but was moved by the memories his classmates shared about them at a reunion.
McConnell is adding the class of 1937 to the website next. For those older graduates, firsthand accounts of their lives may be hard to find.
“I want to see if we can figure it out the best we can,” he said. “I’m really hoping we’ll be able to get enough to have at least a sketch of the person, if not a well-developed photograph.”
Information from: The Capital, http://www.capitalgazette.com/