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Remembering A Fallen Hero I Never Met

6,442 soldiers have died in the War on Terror. But how do you draw meaning from a number?

Memorial Day is the mark of the start of summer and the beginning of cookouts, swimming and vacations.

But it's also an important time to remember those who have given their lives serving our country.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as of May 21, 6,442 soldiers have died during the Global War on Terror and 48,253 have been wounded in action.

Those numbers are hard to quantify. 6,442 is just over half the population of Beachwood. It's about four Beachwood City School districts. 5,000 people fit in Jacobs Pavillion in Cleveland's Flats.

But how can you draw meaning from a number?

Most of the men in my family - on both my mother's and my father's side - have served in the military. Some have even fought in the War on Terror. And fortunately, I've never been close to anyone who has died in combat. 

265 Ohio soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan,  One of those flags represents a man I never met, but who managed to have a profound impact on my life after his death.

When I was a reporter at the Xenia Daily Gazette near Dayton, Ohio in 2010, an alum of a local high school was killed in combat in Afghanistan. 

Army Spc. Jesse A. Snow was only a couple of years older than me. This was the first time in my professional career I was expected to cover the death of a soldier. The first time I called the Snow family's home, my voice cracked before I even got the words out.

How do you call a family less than 24 hours after they hear news of their son's death and ask them how it makes them feel?

I was apologetic on the phone. I asked how they were doing, told them I hated to bother them. I can't imagine how you're feeling, I confessed, but I have to ask.

The family graciously and politely told me to ask again tomorrow.

And I did. I called tomorrow, and the next day, and chatted with three of Snow's five siblings. Four days later, Jesse's brother asked me to come over.

I met the whole family in their living room. Jesse's father John, a retired chief master sgt. in the Air Force, was actually grateful to have me there, asking about their son's life.

Grateful.

He said he wanted the public to know what kind of man Jesse was. It's important to remember him, he said, and to let the public know the importance of his sacrifice.

How a family grieving the loss of their 25-year-old son and brother can have the strength and kindness to be grateful to a reporter is beyond me.

For three hours, the Snow family told me about their brother's sense of humor, his antics, his reasons for serving, and about how one of his comrades had told the family that he had died saving someone else's life.

For the first time, I cried during an interview, and when I left I felt like we were friends.

I never knew Army Spc. Jesse A. Snow, or any of the other 6,442 soldiers who have died in the War on Terror. I don't know any of the 651,031 soldiers who have died in the other U.S. wars.

But I can guess. I bet he was compassionate like his father, and funny like his oldest brother. I saw his life in his family's eyes. 

Today, I won't be visiting the grave of a friend or family member to commemorate Memorial Day. But I'll be thinking of 6,442 Jesse Snows — and their fathers, and their mothers, and their siblings and friends and loved ones.

I'll be thinking of that day in the Snow's home, of the family's strength. And I'll be grateful.

Are you remembering someone today? Tell us about them in the comments.

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