Emotional Reading of Names for Post-9/11 War Dead

PHOTO: Paula Davis participates in reading of Iraq and Afghanistan war dead, including her son Army Pfc. Justin Davis.

They came to read the names on Saturday, the mothers and fathers, the wives, girlfriends, husbands, children, friends and the brothers-in-arms of 6,790 in the U.S. military who made the ultimate sacrifice in the wars fought after 9/11.

On a grassy knoll overlooking the black granite panels of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, known as "The Wall," the line formed for the first complete reading of the war dead in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere the U.S. has pursued al Qaeda and its allies since October 2001.

"It's very emotional," Paula Davis, whose son was killed in Afghanistan eight years ago, told ABC News. "This helps to keep them alive, their memory alive."

Davis's son, Army Pfc. Justin Davis, was a 10th Mountain Division trooper who died fighting in Konar province's Korengal Valley.

On Monday's "Nightline", ABC News will broadcast excerpts and interviews from the new film "Korengal" by war correspondent Sebastian Junger. The documentary is the follow-up to Junger's earlier documentary, "Restrepo," about a platoon from the 173rd Airborne Brigade occupying a combat outpost in the dangerous mountains along the Pakistan border. Tim Hetherington, the photographer who worked with Junger in Afghanistan, was killed on assignment in Libya in 2011.

Davis -- a weekend fixture in Arlington National Cemetery's Section 60, where Iraq and Afghanistan casualties are buried -- watched the first film in a theater alone and wept seeing her son's corner of the war. The Korengal "truly was the valley of death," she said, recalling that 43 other troopers were lost there besides her son before the U.S. pulled out in 2010.

"I won't say it was worth the sacrifice -- war is not perfect," she said

The name of Army medic Juan Restrepo, a private for whom the famous outpost was a tribute, also was read aloud on Saturday.

Some of the wars' top commanders also joined the queue of loved ones and battle buddies to read the long, sad roll call amidst the rumble of Rolling Thunder motorcyclists blasting their bikes up and down Constitution Avenue for Memorial Day weekend tributes.

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus read names of his troopers who fell in Iraq while he was commanding general of the storied 101st Airborne Division.

"I spent almost three years in Iraq and it's an honor to read the names of those lost under my command," retired Army Gen. George Casey, who led all coalition forces in Iraq, told ABC News after reading names at the podium.

The name of Casey's own father is etched into panel 9-West down the hill from the site of the day-long ceremony. Maj. Gen. George W. Casey was commander of the First Cavalry Division and was the highest-ranking American killed in Vietnam.

"This is a bridge for me," said Casey, dressed in a crisp dark business suit and red tie, and wearing the black memory bracelet of a trooper killed in Iraq. "It's an opportunity for one generation of veterans to honor the next generation of veterans."

The tears flowed for many of the more than 450 who came to read and who struggled to keep their composure as they leaned into the mic at the podium to respectfully recite each of 15 names they were given. The reading proceeded chronologically from the first death, Air Force Mast. Sgt. Evader Earl Edwards in Qatar in October 2001, to the most recent casualties.

"With our families in our heart, I read," began one widow.

"My brother, my hero, David Hastings Sharrett II," Chris Sharrett said before the onlookers, pausing afterward from his lingering grief.

Sharrett's brother was a 1-32 Cavalry Screaming Eagle killed by his own lieutenant during a firefight with insurgents in northern Iraq on Jan. 16, 2008. Casey personally ordered an investigation into Sharrett's death in 2010 after Sharrett's family presented him with what they called evidence of a cover-up. Casey greeted Chris on the knoll and told him, "We weren't going to let that go."

After reading Army Sgt. David Isaiah Ladart's name, his mother, Debbie May McLean, said he had post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury from his 16 months in Baghdad and later hanged himself on post after the Veterans Administration rebuffed his pleas for treatment.

The reading of the names, organized by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, has helped those grieving to get through it with hugs and "gives us the strength to keep going because you're not alone," McLean said.

The Pentagon provided the list of KIAs, which was a lower number than the 6,808 listed by website iCasualties.org.

"This is all part of our healing," agreed Cathy Heighter, who read the name of her son Army Spec. Raheem Tyson Heighter's, a trooper killed in 2003 in Iraq.

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