MISSOULA — Another name was added to the state’s Grateful Nation Montana Fallen Soldier Memorial on Tuesday, bringing to 43 the number of Montana service members killed fighting the nation’s wars in the Middle East.
With a small crowd gathered two days before the nation’s 237th birthday, Army Sgt. 1st Class Darren Linde’s name was inscribed in a granite headstone, assuming its permanent location at the memorial on the University of Montana campus.
“You hope and pray every time you put a name in, it will be the last,” said David Bell, who helped found Grateful Nation Montana. “We hope Darren Linde will be the last name we have.”
Linde, of Sidney, was conducting route clearance in Lashkar Gah City, located in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, when he was killed by an improvised explosive device on Dec. 3, 2012.
His father is expected to pass through Missoula next week.
“There’s no way to replace these fine young men,” said Vietnam veteran and state Sen. Cliff Larsen, who attended Tuesday’s brief engraving. “I remember some people I knew in the service that didn’t come back from Vietnam.”
There was no ceremony Tuesday to mark the occasion, and no official speeches. Veterans Sam Redfern and Ziven MacWilliams turned out in support, along with Barbara Denman, a Missoula parent whose own son was wounded by an IED in the war.
Students on campus continued about their day. The bells at Main Hall chimed at noon, right on schedule. Bob Jordan’s sandblaster hissed as it carved Linde’s name in stone.
Jordan, of Garden City Monument Services, has engraved all 43 stones, complete with name, dates of birth and death, hometown and military rank.
“It’s one of those deals you’d like not to do any of them,” he said.
This monument, tucked below a shady grove on campus, has come to serve as Montana’s official memorial dedicated to those who served and died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Larsen, a Missoula Democrat, carried a bill in the Senate giving the memorial its official status. Rep. Champ Edmunds, a Missoula Republican, did the same in the House. The resulting legislation passed unanimously and was signed into law by Gov. Steve Bullock this spring.
“We can wear these colors and enjoy the freedoms we do, but they gave everything,” Larsen said. “These are two sort of undeclared wars, and we’re looking at the consequences right now.”
Linde takes his place alongside 42 other Montana men. They include Marine Cpl. Phillip Baucus of Wolf Creek, who died in the Anbar province of Iraq in 2006, and Pfc. Kristofor Stonesifer, a UM student who died in Pakistan in 2001, becoming Montana’s first casualty of the war.
Joe Warren, director of Montana’s Survivor Outreach Services, has helped many of the families personally after their loss.
“We work with all the families that lost a loved one from Montana,” said Warren, a veteran of the Army. “Sometimes we call them to see how they’re doing, especially in the early time of their grief.”