The Defense Department recently launched the Military In Lasting Tribute webpages to honor service members who died while serving on active duty.
The pages include peacetime deaths, according to Deb Skillman, director of Casualty, Mortuary Affairs and Military Funeral Honors.
"The site is a destination for family members to view, remember, honor and share the sacrifice of their service members with other family members and friends, their networks, extended survivor community and military family," Skillman said.
"This digital memorial serves as an enduring tribute to military heroes, who will forever be part of our military community. It recognizes service members who died while serving honorably on active duty from 1985 to the present," she said.
Although the digital memorial has only been available for several weeks, officials have received nearly 700 requests from families asking that memorial webpages be created for their loved ones, and that information has been posted, Skillman said. She said she expects many more requests to be made in the coming weeks and months.
The submission process is open to family members who have the service member's pertinent information, which can be found on the “Report of Casualty,” DD Form 1300, Skillman said.
Once a service member's name is verified, a page will be posted with the honoree's name, branch of service, rank and date of death, along with a photo or a service branch seal if a photo is not available.
Visitors to the digital memorial can view information on all honorees. Visitors may also share the link to an honoree's page via email or social media.
Lisa Valentine, program manager for Casualty, Mortuary Affairs and Military Funeral Honors, has received feedback from the family members of those who died. She said they are grateful to have a place where they can memorialize their loved ones.
"This is extremely important, especially for those who have peacetime deaths where that person may have deployed three times and then died of cancer. Or maybe they died of suicide as a result of PTSD, and now they have a place where they'll be honored," she said. Valentine also spoke to veterans who were overcome with emotion after seeing digital memorials to buddies who had died.
Skillman said each service member on the digital memorial has loved ones and those they served with who will always remember them.
Air Force Senior Airman Andres Reano is among those included in the digital memorial. He died Aug. 25, 2015.
During an interview, Reano's mother, Samira Chagua, shared some of her memories of her son when he was growing up in Florida. Chagua said he was good in school and joined the Air Force when he graduated from high school in 2012. She said he loved the military, loved his job as a C-130J airplane crew chief and loved to travel.
His overseas duty stations included Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Reano was also a very dedicated and hard worker. His supervisor at Ramstein, retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Roger Cromwell, said working with Reano was a pleasure.
"Seeing Reano was always a highlight in my day working with him in Germany. He was one of my superstars. A great crew chief with loads of energy and future potential. I watched him come to work at 1:30 p.m. many days when his shift didn't start until 4 p.m. He wanted to have his tools checked and be ready. The Air Force and his friends and family lost a great guy here. Rest in peace, buddy!"
Chagua said her son enjoyed playing with Legos. She still has a Legos model of a C-130J that he adored. She also has fond memories of taking him to Florida theme parks.
"It's painful, you know, to lose him, but, you know, at least I have memories," she said, adding that the digital memorial will help keep those memories alive.
The Defense Manpower Data Center has tracked more than 47,000 deaths of service members on active-duty status since Jan. 1, 1985. Casualty and Mortuary Affairs has access to those records.
Hard copy records of anyone who died before 1985 are kept at the National Personnel Records Center. The center is not able at this time to handle a lot of requests due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a spokesman for the center.
Skillman said that once things return to normal, tribute webpages may include digital memorials for service members who died before 1985.
Family members of veterans who honorably served at any time, active, reserve, retired or separated, may also contact the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA also has a Veterans Legacy Memorial.
Gina Jackson, a spokesperson for the VA, said the 3.9 million veterans interred in a VA national cemetery plus 500,000 veterans interred in 93 state veterans cemeteries have a Veterans Legacy Memorial listing with the information found on the veteran's headstone or marker. In addition, any member of the public can add written tributes and photos or upload documents or other content. All content is reviewed by moderators before it is posted.
Also, some veteran service organizations honor those who have served in a variety of ways.