CINCINNATI — Some people look surprised and tell him they just can't believe it's been 10 years already. For Keith Wightman, time hasn't passed quickly at all.
It ticks by slowly as he thinks every day of the loss of his only son — gazing at the spruce tree planted a decade ago in his yard and now marked with a cross, plaque and spotlight. He's seen his son's high school friends and former teammates start careers and families while he daydreams about what might have been for Lance Corporal Brett Wightman, whose future was blown away with those of 10 other members of the Columbus, Ohio-based Lima Companyin Iraq on Aug. 3, 2005.
"I'm going to tell you, he would have been somebody," Wightman said. "He had a great spirit. He was one of the good kids."
Wightman promised that his dead son wouldn't be forgotten, a pledge that other families of the lost members of Lima Company have also taken to heart, establishing scholarship programs, foundations and other benefits to help others in the names of the young men — sons, brothers, husbands, fathers — lost that summer. Two memorial events are scheduled for this month for the 23 people Lima Company lost over a 5-month period of 2005.
Aug. 3 was the company's darkest day.
Wightman remembers vividly, "like yesterday," the early morning hours he spent looking at a moonlit sky wondering what his son was up to. Lance Cpl. Wightman had gone on a mission to flush out enemy combatants who had attacked six Marines two days earlier when his amphibious assault vehicle rumbled onto explosives. Eleven members of Lima Company and three other Marines were killed along with an Iraqi interpreter.
The traveling "Eyes of Freedom" exhibit, with striking life-size paintings of the 23 men slain — accompanied by their boots, photos, and other mementoes — has been open to the public the past week in downtown Cincinnati, near where six of them grew up. On Sunday, a memorial gathering is planned in Cincinnati, and on Aug. 14-15 a company reunion is planned in Columbus, along with a memorial ceremony.
There are permanent memorials, too, including stretches of highways around the state renamed in the Marines' honor. But Wightman and others want to keep their memories alive in ways to benefit other young people.
Wightman started a foundation in Brett's name, with a 5K run, a horseshoe tournament, and other events for funding scholarships and the local youth football program. Sgt. David Kreuter's family hosts an annual golf outing, dinner and auction in Cincinnati that raises tens of thousands of dollars each year for scholarships in his name.
Kreuter's mother, Pat Murray, said the family has always believed strongly in the value of education, something David, a University of Cincinnati graduate, shared, so they decided to focus on memorial scholarships.
"It's a way to continue someone's presence even when they're no longer with us," his father, Ken Kreuter, explained. "If you can take a bad situation and turn it into something that helps others ..."
"You always hope that one kid you give a scholarship to will cure a disease, or come up with a plan for peace," his wife added.
The Kreuters are expanding their efforts to help families of new Marines; such as offering stipends for travel to see their children at boot camp graduations.
They and the other Lima Company families know, painfully, that today's special moments come without guarantees that there will be more.
"We all have so many memories," Murray said. "The saddest thing is really that no new memories are being created."
But they do have the grandson, just turned 10 — the son David never got to see in person — as a powerful living reminder. And they have their benefit work.
Like Wightman, they sometimes imagine what their son would be doing today.
As they are proud of him, Kreuter thinks David would be proud of their efforts.
He can just see David standing there, listening to what they're doing in his name, and saying with a smile: "Way to go, Dad."