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Taking a knee

Students at Clover Park will once again re-create an Arlington-style cemetery on the school’s front lawn. Photo courtesy Clover Park School District

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To take a knee means to pause to rest or make adjustments to a course of action.

It also means to honor the fallen.

Memorial Day presents an opportunity for the Joint Base Lewis-McChord and surrounding communities to take a knee and reflect on the service of those who gave the last full measure in defense of this country.

The day's history of remembrance stems from the Civil War when it was officially proclaimed in May 1868 "for the purpose of strewing with flowers ... the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country ..."

Rep. Denny Heck (D-10 District) has called the project "one of the most unique student memorials in the United States."

Since 2008, Clover Park High School students, faculty, staff and community members have covered the front lawn of the school with thousands of individually placed white markers to honor the nearly 7,000 American and coalition soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Each marker bears the name, rank and date of each fallen soldier, airman, Guardsman, sailor and Marine.

"There is a meaning to Memorial Day," said David Russell, a veteran, history teacher and co-founder to the project, "and it is important that it be remembered."

He and retired physical education teacher Bryan Winkler began the project as a way to engage a group of students.

Acting on his belief that more needed to be done in recognition of Memorial Day and his experiences of witnessing two Memorial Day experiences in Europe, Russell suggested to Winkler an Arlington-style cemetery reproduction honoring the dead from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Winkler liked the idea, told his class about the idea, and they set about making the idea real.

Russell added that students make connections to those they honor.

"They begin to ask questions, and the whole school gets involved in organizing this event for the community," said Russell."

It's a truly remarkable way to honor our fallen heroes -- to remember those who have sacrificed so much for this country."

The opening ceremony for the Arlington Project will occur Wednesday, May 22, at 5 p.m. at Clover Park High School, located at 11023 Gravelly Lake Dr. SW in Lakewood.

It includes choir and band performances, student created memorials of all of America's conflicts, the school's Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps re-creating the tomb guard at Arlington National Ceremony and performing a retreat ceremony.

Of note, there will also be a viewing of HBO's movie Taking Chance in the high school's gathering hall at 6 p.m.

This 2009 film is an historical drama based on the experiences of Marine Lt. Col. Michael Strobl who volunteered to escort the body of a fallen Marine, Pfc. Chance Phelps (posthumously promoted to LCpl) during the final stage of his journey back from Iraq to his hometown in Wyoming for burial.

"It's powerful," Russell says. "It is worth staying to watch."

It's worth taking a knee.

For more information, visit or call 253.583.5500.

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