May 25, 2007 - When Indianapolis resident Peggie Writtenhouse mourns her brother, Army Master Sgt. James F. “Fred” Hayes, a father of five killed serving his second tour of Operation Iraqi Freedom, she can’t easily visit his gravesite in a Kentucky veteran’s cemetery
Instead, she visits an Internet memorial dedicated to him created on the online obituary and memorial site, Legacy.com.
“It’s just wonderful,” Writtenhouse said about the online guest book and tribute. “Everyone has said how much it’s helped them.”
Her family isn’t alone. Legacy.com provides online memorials and obituaries in partnership with more than 400 U.S. newspapers. The entire Legacy.com site – which includes memorials and obituaries for more than half of all people who die in the United States annually – is visited by almost 10 million users each month. The site’s “In Remembrance” section, which honors those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, includes profiles gleaned from news reports for each of the almost 3,500 servicemen and women killed to-date in the current conflict.
Visitors soar over Memorial Day
The "In Remembrance” section honors those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since it was created in March 2005, In Remembrance has garnered almost 7 million page views. Its popularity typically soars during holidays on which America remembers its fallen soldiers. For example, Legacy.com’s traffic doubled last year around the Memorial Day holiday and increased four-fold over Veterans Day.
Memorial Day “a different holiday after you lose someone in the military”
“Memorial Day becomes a different holiday after you lose someone in the military,” said Joanne Steen, a former civilian engineer for the Navy who wrote Military Widow: A Survival Guide and became a certified grief counselor following the 1992 death of her naval aviator husband in the line of duty. “It’s more than a day to shop or go to barbecues. When there’s a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout putting a flag on the grave of your loved one, you think about the day differently.”
Legacy.com’s In Remembrance includes profiles gleaned from news reports for each of the almost 3,500 servicemen and women killed to-date in the current conflict. If an obituary is published about the soldier in a Legacy.com affiliate newspaper, the obituary is also added to the online profile.
Families enhance Legacy.com’s military profiles
Friends and family members can expand soldiers’ profiles in two ways. They type entries into the online guest books that accompany each profile. They also can – as Writtenhouse did – create “Moving Tributes” that consist of photographs and captions and can be accompanied by music and voice narration by family members or friends. Since In Remembrance’s creation, almost 400 Moving Tributes and 155,000 guest book entries have been created.
People find out about the memorials in one of two ways: through a brief tagline published in each affiliated newspaper’s obituary, or through word of mouth. “I told all of my friends, and each one told their friends, and it just snowballed,” Writtenhouse remembered.
All elements of In Remembrance are free of charge, as is a similar section also featured on Legacy.com to remember those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. Legacy.com editors review all comments and photographs for appropriateness before posting them to the Website.
“It’s just a way of talking to him, of letting him know we miss him”
Stopher Bartol, chief executive officer of Legacy.com, said In Remembrance has been a particular moving and powerful element of the site. “We all see news reports about the war, but it hits home when you see the photographs and read messages from friends and family about these soldiers killed in service to their country,” he said.
Bartol added that online memorialization has grown more important in today’s mobile society, in which friends and family members often live far from one another, making travel to funeral services and memorials difficult. In addition, many visitors feel more comfortable sharing their feelings in writing in an online guest book rather than speaking at a service. Mourners also often will pen messages to the departed soldier. “It’s just a way of talking to him, to let him know we miss him,” Writtenhouse said about messages she and other family members have written to Hayes in his guest book.
Memorials comfort after the shock of death has subsided
Writtenhouse said her brother’s guest book was of particular comfort after the shock of his death began to subside and his memorial and funeral service were complete. “There are so many people who say, ‘I’m sorry.’ You’re sort of go on cruise control, and after a while, you can't hear them anymore,” she remembered. “After you come off auto pilot and settle back into your life, you can go back to the guest book and read what people thought of him. It means so much. Even complete strangers have become friends through what they’ve written.
“My brother was my best friend, but there are so many things I’ve learned about him from reading his guest book.”
Friends and family members of soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan may sign a guest book in memory of the fallen soldier by entering his or her name at <http://www.legacy.com/Soldier/home.aspx> and following the instructions. They also may create a “Moving Tribute” by following the instructions at: <http://www.legacy.com/MT/Gateway.aspx?Soldier=Yes&PC=Soldier>.