93 Arkansans killed over 8 years
The Iraq War kicked off eight years ago this week and was quickly followed by Arkansas' first wartime death.
The anniversary of that death will be marked Saturday with a ceremony at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery also honoring all of the state's casualties over the years in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Navy Corpsman Michael Vann Johnson Jr. was treating a wounded Marine in the initial push into Iraq when shrapnel from a grenade pierced his head and killed him on March 25, 2003.
As of Friday, 93 Arkansans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, Of those 72 died in Iraq and 21 in Afghanistan. The majority of those deaths - 75 - were the result of enemy fire. There also have been 17 noncombat deaths and one from friendly fire.
Cpl Loren Buffalo, 20, of Mountain Pine was the latest victim. He died March 9 in Afghanistan and was buried Friday in the State Veterans Cemetery.
Today there are several hundred Arkansans from Little Rock Air Force Base, the Navy Reserve in North Little Rock, the Army Reserve ad the Arkansas National Guard still serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
The Michael Vann Johnson Jr. American Legion Post 74 will host the annual ceremony Saturday.
Post 74 in North Little Rock was named in honor of Johnson when it began in 2004.
The memorial service will begin at 11 a.m. at the State Veterans Cemetery at 1501 W. Maryland Ave. in North Little Rock. The name of each Arkansan killed in Iraq and Afghanistan will be read. Pvt. William Long, 25, of Conway also will be memorialized. He was killed in 2009 in a shooting at a Little Rock recruiting office.
This year's speakers at the event will include Col. David Kasberg, commander of the 19th Operations Group at Little Rock Air Force Base.
I would like to believe that there is some healing taking place at ceremonies like this, said R. D. Kinsey commander of Post 74. "I have that list of casualties. And I carry it with me everywhere I go."
Today would have been Loren's 21 birthday. It will be a very hard day for his mom A.J. and brother Legend along with the rest of his family and friends. Please take a moment to send prayers of peace and strength for them today.
I ask all of our fellow Arkansans to try to attend this ceremony Saturday and show these families that their Heroes will never be forgotten.
Happy Birthday Buff, We love and miss you.
I love you Scout