They gave their lives for their country and they are lives worth knowing

Posted at 3:00 PM, Nov 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-18 18:36:55-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Hours before the Veterans Day crowd arrived at the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond, Jesse Smith put the finishing touches on a years-long project.

“This was a hard exhibit to do,” Smith said.

The Virginia War Memorial’s new exhibit, “Who They Were. Lives Worth Knowing," provided visitors a "snapshot of those who are on the wall,” he added.

For Dennis Young, it represented a painful family reunion.

“That was so long ago. That was so long ago,” Young said. “I remember all of this. I remember all of it so well.”

Her brother Gordon Young from Charlotte County was killed in November 1965 in Vietnam.

He was 21.

Gordon is one of 32 Virginia service members, who died in World War II through the War on Terror, who were honored.

“I remember him as 21 years old. No gray hair. No wrinkly skin. Just young,” Young said.

Photos, letters, artifacts, and video personalize the fallen. Emotions can run raw.

"There is a saying you die twice," Smith said. "Once when your physical form dies and second when you’re memory is gone."

The featured soldiers, sailors, and airmen come from different backgrounds and places across Virginia.

Who They Were. Lives Worth Knowing

Robert Dyess’ high school friend Ben Maxwell from Appomattox County was killed during the Embassy Bombings in Beirut in 1983.

“It was a real loss,” Dyess said. “I very much appreciate that the War Memorial is showing where they were from in Virginia because this is a Virginia War Memorial.”

For curator Jesse Smith, this exhibit is personal.

His great-uncle Robert Long’s B-17 crashed in the English Channel in 1944 during WWII.

“To this day he is still considered missing in action,” Smith said.


The Western Union Telegram sent to Robert’s parents is part of the display.

So is a guitar once owned by Staff Sergeant Penn Crawford killed during WWII.

“One of the things his children remember is their father playing this guitar,” Smith said.

“You are my Sunshine” was one of Crawford’s favorite songs to play to his children.


“This is why we do this,” Smith said. “Their story needs to be told. People need to hear about this.”

If you would like to visit the “Who they Were. Lives Worth Knowing” the exhibit will be on display for at least a year at the Virginia War Memorial.

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