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July 23, 2014

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Lives of fallen military members honored at ceremony at Red Rock

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Gregan Wingert

A series of boulders at Red Rock National Conservation Area are engraved with the names of Nevadans who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan while serving their country.

Slow tears formed on the face of Stacy Dinkel while she thought of her nephew, Army Spc. Doug Green, who died in combat Aug. 28 while in Afghanistan.

Green was always the first to volunteer for an assignment and he didn't do it for the glory, Dinkel said. "He was doing it because he knew how scared the other guys were."

Veterans, military families, politicians and community members gathered Saturday morning at Red Rock Conservation Area visitor's center for the Defending Freedom Memorial to pay their respects to service members who died in 2011.

Five new names — Sgt. Ken Hermogino, Sgt. Timothy Sayne, Spc. Douglas Green, Spc. Dennis James Jr. and Cpl. Jon-Luke Bateman — were added this year to the seven rocks that display the names of Nevada soldiers, airman, sailors and Marines who died during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Members of the crowd placed leis, wildflowers and roses on the stones.

"This is just a way for me to give back a very, very small part," said Phil Randazzo, founder of Nevada Benefits Foundation.

Randazzo had tried to enlist in the military after 9/11 but was turned away due to multiple knee injuries. Since 2005, Randazzo's foundation has held the memorial. Currently 79 names are engraved on the stones.

Dinkel dabbed her eyes under her dark sunglasses during speeches delivered by several public officials, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, Rep. Joe Heck and Rep. Shelley Berkley. Emotions overwhelmed when her nephew was called a hero.

Randazzo had met Green; it was a memory that lingered in Randazzo's mind during the ceremony.

"He was just a little tough for me," said Randazzo, adding that it was the first time he'd ever met someone whose name ended up etched on a stone.

The idea for the memorial came from Helena Lukac, whose son died in Iraq in 2004.

Lukac is the mother of 19-year-old Durango High School graduate and Marine Pfc. John Lukac. She approached Randazzo with an idea to honor the fallen and the two, with the help of then-Sen. John Ensign, were able to make the memorial a reality.

"(My son) just wanted to make a difference," Helena Lukac said through tears. "Now it's my turn to make a difference."

It was the third time Sandoval had attended the ceremony. This year he chose to attend the ceremony over attending a GOP convention in Sparks.

"As governor I've always had a profound respect for the men and women who serve in the military," Sandoval said.

"It's a privilege for me to be here to pay tribute to our Nevada war dead," Berkley said. "We will never forget their sacrifice."

During the ceremony, Sandoval signed an executive order simplifying the process military families who relocate to Nevada go through to find jobs.

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