‘Book of Fallen Heroes’ allows Nevadans to remember those who sacrificed their lives in war
LVN Editor Emeritus
Resting within a wooden case in the state capitol and under glass, a hand-bound book lists the names of Nevada’s men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
The “Book of Fallen Heroes” reveals hundreds of names of Nevadans who died in skirmishes and wars since Congress approved statehood for the state almost 154 years ago. Based on a series of seven “Books of Remembrance” displayed in Canada’s Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, the volumes commemorate more than 118,000 Canadians who also have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country in uniform since Confederation.
On a trade mission to Ottawa early in his first term, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval visited the memorial chamber and became instantly inspired by the books and tribute paid to those who died for their country.
“They (his Canadian hosts) took me to a big room, and it was really an ornate, beautiful room,” Sandoval recalled. “Under glass in the middle of the room was a book, and they turn a page every day.”
Along the walls were six other books, and on each page was the name of a Canadian who died in conflict. The books listed names from First World War, Second World War, Newfoundland, Korean War, South African War and Nile Expedition, Merchant Navy and “In the Service of Canada.” The experience left Sandoval in awe, humbled by the number of names of men and women inscribed in the books.
“I thought it was a beautiful tribute to the men and women who were killed and made the ultimate sacrifice and thought we should have something like that in Nevada,” said Nevada’s commander in chief.
Beginning the project
The task to organize a book for Nevadans killed in conflicts and wars fell to Caleb Cage, his former director of the Nevada Department of Veteran Services. Cage, an Iraqi war veteran who graduated from Reed High School and the United States Military Academy at West Point, began to organize the project. Cage also reflected on Nevadans’ service to their country after conferring with the governor.
“What’s special to me is Nevada’s commitment to the country from statehood and the Civil War to now,” said Cage, who has served as Chief of the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Advisor since 2015. “We wanted something appropriate and hopefully to have the same reach as the Books of Remembrance.”
Cage supervised the project with input from the governor and from looking at a brochure of the “Books of Remembrance.” With money donated by the Nevada Military Support Alliance, both Cage and the governor developed their idea for the “Book of Fallen Heroes,” which, Cage said, took a different format because of the fewer names of deceased veterans.
The tedious task to find names of Nevadans who perished in conflicts took months. Cage said he spent hours looking at historical documents, service records and most recently for the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, service records from the federal government. Local military monuments such as those in Carson City and Fallon also yielded a wealth of information, listing names from various wars.
Once the project received its donation from the Nevada Military Support Alliance, the project began to take shape. A glass case houses the book and three flags protect the book — A U.S. flag was flown in Kabul on Sept. 11, 2014, and the Nevada flag was flown at Kandahar Air Field in 2014 where the 422nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion of the Nevada Army National Guard deployed in 2011. Above the book is a large Nevada flag donated by the governor, who said the handsewn flag and its size indicates it may have been from a time period before the 1930s and flown at Nevada military installations or buildings.
A plaque above the pages describes the book.
Jon Yuspa, executive director of Honor Flight Nevada, said the book brings the names to life.
“Eventually, we would like to see a kiosk near the book with a touch screen where visitors can find a name and a biography,” he said.
As for the current “Book of Fallen Heroes,” Yuspa said it offers family members to come and see the book.
“We’re all Nevadans,” he pointed out.
Cage said the donation also paid for the book, which was bound by a Nevadan, and another Nevadan completed the calligraphy of each name.
“I really wanted it to be appropriate and for the people to have the same reactions I have had,” Sandoval said. “I wanted it to be a proper and reverent tribute to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. I look at it all the time.”
Unveiling the book
Sandoval said Cage put an exorbitant amount of effort into the project. After Cage completed the project, a ceremony to christen the “Book of Fallen Heroes” occurred in 2014, the same year Nevada celebrated its sesquicentennial. Guests can also peruse a separate book, which is near the encased “Book of Fallen Heroes.” A staff member turns the page each week with each page containing 20 names.
Carson City Mayor Bob Crowell, a Navy captain during the Vietnam War and ardent supporter of military organizations and events, was emotionally moved.
“I remember being rather teary-eyed when Governor Sandoval unveiled the ‘Book of the Fallen Heroes,’” recalled Crowell. “It is a moving and textual reminder that we should never forget the human cost of war. Each of the individuals named in the Book of the Fallen Heroes gave their life so that others could savor the fruit of freedom for which we should be eternally grateful.”
While finding the names and organizing the pages, Cage said he had a special interest in the names from Nevada’s early days, especially during the Civil War time when troops stayed at Fort Churchill near the Carson River and during the Old West. During the country’s foray into its first major world war in 1917, Cage said he recognized some prominent Northern Nevada names of those who may have lost loved one — last names such as Anderson, Bell, Ceresola, Gadda, Siri and Teixeira.
Another doughboy, Army Pvt. Darrell Dunkle, died June 18, 1918, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. American Legion Post 1 in Reno bears his name.
Of those killed in battle during WWI, 195 were Nevadans and another 200,000 were wounded, which is a casualty rate far greater than WWII.
Eleven WWI veterans are interred at Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley.
Vietnam has drawn more interest from visitors because of a healing with the country and the veterans and Welcome Home events every spring. Names in the “Book of Fallen Heroes” include seven Carson City residents who died as a result of Vietnam: Sgt. Daniel L. Ackerman, Petty Officer 3 Michael A. Bodamer, Cpl. David. L. Collins, Spec. 4 Danny L. Smothers, Lance Cpl. Keith D. Taylor, Cmdr. Frederick H. Whittemore and Cpl. James R. Willis. Fallon included Spec. 4 Mahlon R. Arnett, Pfc. Michael D. Blea, Sgt. 1st Class Billy D. Hill, Spec. 4 Willard V. Johnson, Spec. 4 Fredrick E. Larsen, Capt. Eddie Molino, Jr., Spec. 4 Ronald R. Rodrigues and Spec. 5 William R. Rogne. Other area veterans are Cpl. Dale Eugene Hutchins from Douglas County and Sgt. Danny Gerald Studdard of Virginia City.
Having served in Iraq also piqued Cage’s interest with lives lost in Iraq and also Afghanistan. Fallon’s Jason Disney, for example, was one of the first servicemen to die in Afghanistan in February 2002 after the events of 9/11, and the main thoroughfare at the Bagram Air Field, for example, was named after Disney. Another soldier with Fallon ties, CWO/2 Christian Peter Humphreys, 28, was killed when his OH-58 Kiowa helicopter crashed while on a mission over Mosul, Iraq, on Nov. 15, 2008.
Two deaths involved men who came from the Carson City area. Another fact regarding Nevada deaths during the two wars, three servicemen serving in the Nevada Army National Guard were killed in 2005. Spc. Anthony Cometa of Henderson was killed In Iraq, while Chief Warrant Officer John Michael Flynn of Sparks and Sgt. Patrick Dana Stewart of Fernley were killed when their CH-47 helicopter crashed in Zabul Province, Afghanistan on Sept. 25 of that year.
Call of duty
Sandoval, though, has a different approach. He said in each war, every man and woman are just as important in one conflict as others are in another.
For Sandoval, every name means sacrifice.
“Every name stands out. What more can you ask from an individual and how much more can they give,” Sandoval explained. “Their life for Nevada and country is a last measure of devotion.”
The governor, a student of history who reads as often, said every conflict had a call for the people to respond, and he respects those who answered the call to duty.
“It’s been my priority to make Nevada the most military friendly state in the country,” Sandoval said. “When people walk into the capital and then see that “Book of Fallen Heroes,” they understand Nevada supports the men and women of the military and the sacrifices.”
Although Sandoval will leave office at the end of this year because of term limits, the governor said he hopes the book remains in the capitol because it belongs to the people of Nevada. Sandoval said the book should be a permanent fixture in the capitol. The idea for a “Book of Fallen Heroes” began during his first term when he visited Canada and recently, the volume of names completed a full circle. Throughout the modern wars of the 20th Century and in both Iraq and Afghanistan during the past 16 years, U.S. service men and women fought alongside their Canadian counterparts whether it was at near Baghdad or at Kandahar or Bagram air fields. Sandoval said our neighbors to the North show appreciation for what Nevada has done with its heroes: “We have had a few Canadian delegations come through, and they appreciate the inspiration for our book came from Canada.”