On Aug. 8, 2010, Michael and Annette Kirk of Valrico lost their son, Pfc. Paul O. Cuzzupe II, 23, who was killed when his unit was hit by an improvised explosive device at Akhtar-Mohammad-Khan in Afghanistan.
Seven years later, these Gold Star parents are pushing forward with a memorial at Veterans Memorial Park and Museum in Tampa. It is designed to honor the 16 Hillsborough County residents, including their son, who have been killed during America's longest war. And to make this happen, they are looking for a number of photographs of others who, like their son, made the ultimate sacrifice.
The push for an Operation Enduring Freedom memorial started four years ago, Annette Kirk said.
"My vision of the memorial has always been from the pictures that I had seen of my son from his deployment," she said. "The majority of the pictures that I have of him have Hesco barriers in the background, guard towers, so I'd say that's a huge part of the vision," she said.
It was important to incorporate the so-called Hesco barrier, a portable protective system named for the manufacturer, Kirk said, because they are so common in Afghanistan.
"The Iraq Memorial has the T wall, which is synonymous with Operation Iraqi Freedom," she said. "Those ... veterans walk up to the memorial and feel it immediately. I wanted the (Afghanistan) veterans to have that same reaction, but not in a bad way, just symbolic."
Hesco has agreed to donate real barriers for the memorial.
Hillsborough County, which owns the veterans memorial site at 3602 Highway 301, allotted $80,000 for an Afghanistan memorial.
Design has been a challenge, Kirk said: "Just when we think we've got it, we find something else that needs tweaked."
Adding to the challenge is the personal sense of loss, she said.
"It's a difficult task, especially going over the names of the fallen. Seeing my own son's name over and over again while fact checking is heartbreaking, but it's a labor of love for him and all of his brothers and sister who served and paid the ultimate sacrifice. I owe it to all of them. It's what I feel I was called to do."
Kirk said she has photos of her son and Cory Clark, Jason Fabrizi, Daniel Angus, Dimitri Del Castillo, Christophe Marquis and Ivan Lechowich and is seeking photos for Antonio Sledd, Joseph Fuerst, Aaron Griner, Michael Thomas, Eric Lembke, David Hess, Ronald Freeman, Ricardo Seija and Matthew Leggett.
The efforts are appreciated by other Gold Star family members.
"I believe that the memorial is an important step to ensuring that all of our service members' sacrifices are remembered," said Rick Lechowich, father of Army 1st Lt. Ivan D. Lechowich, who was 27 when he was killed in Afghanistan on Sept. 28, 2011.
"We have been at war now for a very, very long time and the cost has been high in blood, treasure, and people's peace of mind," Lechowich said. "For reasons that we have decided as a society, those costs have been more concentrated among a smaller group than in past wars. Remembering all of the stories, passing them on, and honoring them with memorials in public spaces is critical to our national memory and spirit."
A dedication is scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 7. For more information, contact Annette Kirk at (813) 205-0481.
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The Pentagon announced the death of a soldier during the past two weeks in support of its ongoing operations.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert R. Boniface, 34, of San Luis Obispo, California, died March 19, in Logar Province, Afghanistan, from a non-combat related incident. The incident is under investigation. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
There have been 2,347 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; 33 U.S. troop deaths and one civilian Department of Defense employee death in support of the follow-up, Operation Freedom's Sentinel in Afghanistan; 29 troop deaths and one civilian death in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the fight against the Islamic State; one troop death in support of Operation Odyssey Lightning, the fight against Islamic State in Libya; and one death under Other Contingency Operations as part of the Global War on Terrorism.
Contact Howard Altman at [email protected] or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman