Memorial Day Technology: Map the Fallen

Here’s a way to commemorate Memorial Day with the technology you’re using right now — your computer. Google engineer Sean Askay has created a “layer” for Google Earth with detailed information about the service members who gave their lives in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars: Map the Fallen.

With Askay’s tool, you can learn about how each service member died, see their pictures and where they came from, and visit memorial websites with comments from friends and family. Here’s his description of the project:

Google Earth has come a long way since late 2005 when I first started using it: a few of these improvements include time animation, “regionation” for efficiently displaying thousands of points on the map, and Touring, which enables you to record your flightpath and narration to guide your audience through your content. I’m sure many of you have heard of Google’s 20% time program, where engineers can work the equivalent of a day a week on a project of their choosing. I decided last year that it was time to revisit my casualties mapping project, and have since spent some of my 20% time (as well as a healthy dose my own personal time) rebuilding the map to use these new features.

For this project I collected information from a number of sources, including the Department of Defense’s Statistical Information Analysis Division, icasualties.org, militarytimes.com’s Honor the Fallen, Washington Post’s Faces of the Fallen, the Iraq and Afghanistan Pages, and legacy.com. I used the Google Maps and geonames.org geocoding services to get coordinates for each person’s home of record and approximate place of death. The map includes data through March 2009. I’d like to point out the incredible time commitment the above organizations invest in maintaining this information; as I’ve learned, it is not an easy task. All of the data I have assembled and generated for this project will be made freely available for download in the near future.

During this project, I have sought the advice and perspectives of several groups directly tied to these losses, including Gold Star families, veterans’ groups, active-duty servicemen and women, and leadership in the United States Army. I’ve done my best to incorporate their feedback and suggestions in creating something that pays tribute to the memory and service of these fallen heroes. Out of respect for the families of those people on this map who have taken their own lives, I have chosen to describe these deaths as coming from “non-combat” related causes.

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