Each Memorial Day we honor the men and women in uniform who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom we enjoy. Traditionally, this is the day many people visit cemeteries and memorials, especially the Arlington National Cemetery. But not all of us can do that. This year there's an alternative.
Sean Askay, a Google engineer, released on Sunday a Google Earth layer, called Map the Fallen, that contains detailed information of more than 5,700 service members who died in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. This is an interactive tool that lets you see photos, learn about how each service member died, visit memorial Web sites with comments from friends and families, and explore the places they called home and where they died.
Askay has no military affiliation or background and developed the project on his personal time. He said on his Map the Fallen blog that he came up with the idea when he was still a student and ran across icasualties.org, a public database of soldiers who have died since the beginning of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to Askay's blog, the Map the Fallen layer contains information collected from a number of sources, including the Department of Defense's Statistical Information Analysis Division, icasualties.org, MilitaryTimes.com's Honor the Fallen, The Washington Post's Faces of the Fallen, the Iraq and Afghanistan Pages, and Legacy.com.
The layer requires Google Earth 5.0 or later. Once the software is installed, you just need to download the Map the Fallen layer layer and choose to open it. After a few seconds, the layer will be loaded and you can learn much about honorable men and women who you might otherwise not know about at all.
Personally, seeing the sheer number of human figures closely shown on the surface of the Earth is enough to leave me feeling somber and humbled.
What Askay did shows the true meaning of Memorial Day, and for a lot of us it offers an easy and convenient way to frequently remember and honor those we are often too distracted to do that for.