Sometime before U.S. Army Pfc. Michael J. Metcalf went to help rescue comrades on a mission in Afghanistan, he tucked two letters into his pocket: one that he had written and planned to mail to his mother and a second that she had given him just before he left for his first tour of duty. Metcalf, 22, died with both letters more than 7,000 miles away on an April day in 2012.
Four years after his death, after the beloved letters were returned to his mother, Metcalf’s name holds a permanent place on Miami International Airport’s new Wall of Honor, a majestic, enduring salute to the 118 members of South Florida’s military troops who died while serving in the global war on terrorism in the years since Sept. 11, 2001.
“They will never be forgotten,” Kim Metcalf said, facing her son’s name inscribed on the ninth row. “My son and the other fallen soldiers will never be forgotten.”
On the Thursday before the nation celebrated Memorial Day, the airport unveiled the three-sided wall etched with the names of the fallen, a reminder of the human toll of long-running wars and the wide reach of personal loss. The day also marked the fifth anniversary of two names on the wall: Sgt. Thomas Andrew Bohall, 25, and Lt. John Marshall Runkle, 27, who both died on May 26, 2011, when insurgents attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
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The memorial is polished black granite, stretching 51 feet and two corners, standing tall in Concourse D, the bustling center where most of the airport’s 44 million passengers pass annually, a sobering moment in the chaos of air travel. The inscribed names form ten rows offering details of a soldier’s story: rank, name, age, and most profoundly, date and place of death — enough in a few lines to appreciate their sacrifice. One more name will soon be added to the wall for a total of 119.
“To call this a celebration is a stretch,” said Miami-Dade Aviation Director Emilio T. Gonzalez, “but we are celebrating. We’re celebrating life. We’re celebrating sacrifice. We’re celebrating loss, but it’s a celebration which reminds us all of what our country stands for.”
Like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the surface of the wall is reflective and allows visitors to create paper impressions, or rubbings, of the names. One side of the wall displays the seals of the five U.S. military branches; on the other, an 18-minute film tribute — an ongoing project — features photos of some of the troops who died along with their families.
“We wanted this to be in a place that was accessible to the public and the families,” said Yolanda Sanchez, the airport’s director of Fine Arts and Cultural Affairs. “We wanted people to be able to see the names on the wall and their own reflection so they see we are them and they are us, and that we are all a community.”
The memorial, four years in the making, cost about $400,000 paid for out of the airport’s general fund. Munilla Construction Co. waived its fee for the building of the project.
South Florida’s fallen served in four of the military branches, 113 men and six women from a nine-county region south and east of Lake Okeechobee, from Monroe to Martin and Collier to Glades.
The losses span more than 13 years, from March 2002 to October 2015. The three youngest were 19, young enough to have their whole lives ahead of them; the oldest was 51, old enough to have left behind fully realized dreams.
For the families, the memorial offers assurance that their loved ones will not be forgotten, their humanity intact.
“I could not have imagined how beautiful this would be,” said Sondra Millman, gazing toward the etched name of her granddaughter, Elizabeth Nicole Jacobson. Millman made the 90-minute trip to Miami from Boca Raton, determined to be part of the unveiling.
Airman First Class Jacobson, 21, a member of the Air Force Security Forces, died in Iraq nine years ago, becoming the first female U.S. airman killed in action in Iraq.
“She was truly special, strong-willed and headstrong, and she had so much love to give,” Millman said. “She was always smiling and always laughing.”
After spending four years living with Millman in Riviera Beach, Jacobson returned to California with her parents where she graduated high school.
“I remember her chatting about wanting to join the military. She was looking for direction in her life,” Millman said. “We talked about the honor of serving your country.”
Jacobson enlisted in early 2004 and was stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas before deploying to Iraq.
“She was just such a caring person. One Mother’s Day, while she was in the service, she sent me purple tulips out of the goodness of her heart,” Millman said. “You could always count on her to cheer you up.”
Jacobson had found her calling. She wanted a career in the military. And she wanted a family, two boys she would name Austin and Hunter.
She had been deployed about three months when a roadside bomb exploded near her convoy on the border of Iraq and Kuwait. She was buried with military honors in the war heroes section of Forest Lawn Funeral Home and Cemetery in Pompano Beach. Jacobson’s legacy includes a street, a training facility, a performance award, even a coin named in her honor.
Her own words, carried in an online memorial: “We’re only on earth for a little while, so live life to the fullest and carry a smile.”
When Tim Bohall read a news article the morning of May 26, 2011, about the death of eight U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan, “it was like I had a heart attack.”
Something told him that his 25-year-old son, Sgt. Thomas A. Bohall, was among those killed in an insurgent attack in Kandahar province. Still, he went about his day.
His wife, Marla — who had just had back surgery — wasn’t allowed to tell her husband over the phone, so she called him and said she fell. He was eating lunch at Wendy’s; he threw out the rest of his lunch and rushed home. He walked in and there were two servicemen there.
“I knew right away,” he said. “It’s just a feeling you get as a parent.”
The next morning, the Bohalls were in Dover, Delaware, waiting for a 747 aircraft to bring home the bodies of seven of the servicemen killed.
“I remember it coming in low and slow and thinking, ‘God, don’t land, please just go on,’ ” he said. “Landing meant that it was real.”
Bohall’s interest in the military took his family by surprise. The 19-year-old had been accepted to the veterinarian and the architecture programs at Kansas State University and had never talked about going into the service.
But Thomas, who grew up in Kansas and Texas where he was popular and played soccer, made up his mind after a chance encounter with a recruiter for the Special Operations unit at the finish line of a marathon.
A freak accident on the last day of training that left him with a broken collarbone took him out of the running. Instead, he was asked to join the Pathfinder Company of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). Just after joining the service, Thomas Bohall got married and a few years later had a daughter.
“They were his world,” Tim Bohall said, adding that his son called him weekly.
Before his last deployment, Thomas Bohall told his dad that if anything were to happen to him, he wanted to be buried in San Antonio, Texas. The son’s wishes were fulfilled.
Now Tim Bohall, 57, who lives in Miami, is active with the Southern Command and delivers speeches about his son “who proudly died with his boots on.”
The letters Metcalf had received and planned to send to his mother before his death — crinkled but whole — are now framed in Kim Metcalf’s Boynton Beach home, an enduring reminder of her son’s service and sacrifice.
The paratrooper was killed April 22, 2012, when the Hummer he was driving rolled over an improvised explosive device on a mission to save comrades also injured by a roadside bomb. Metcalf, 22, died about one month after he began his first tour in Afghanistan and 26 days before his 23rd birthday.
“My son loved life,” said his mother, her voice just above a whisper. “He loved getting up in the morning. He loved his friends and families, and boy, did he have an infectious smile.”
Since he was young, Michael Metcalf was interested in serving his country, even attending a prestigious military academy in Wisconsin where he played football, baseball and hockey. He returned to Florida with an unlikely passion: bull riding.
“He lived more in his nearly 23 years than some people who reach their 90s. He did everything; he loved sports, skimboarding and ice hockey. He would go to Davie and Okeechoobee and ride the bulls,” she said. “He loved the color green and wrestling and war movies. Saving Private Ryan was one of his favorite.”
When Michael turned 18, he went with his father, Cee Jay Metcalf, to get his first tattoo. The son picked out a tattoo design for his father to get one, too: a cross with a dog tag. The dog tag includes Michael’s birth date.
Two years before he joined the Army, Metcalf clipped a newspaper photo of a 2009 military funeral with horses pulling a caisson carrying the remains of a member of the military. He stored it in his school trunk.
Three years later, Michael J. Metcalf was honored in the same solemn tradition.
THE NAMES ON THE WALL OF HONOR
SPC Marc Anthony Anderson, 30, 1 st BN, 75th Ranger Regiment, USA, 4 March 2002, Afghanistan
SSG Justin Joseph Galewski, 28, 710th Explosive Ordnance Detachment, USA, 15 April 2002, Afghanistan
SGT Thomas Francis Broomhead, 34, 2 nd Squadron, 3 rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, USA, 27 May 2003, Iraq
PFC Stephen Eugene Wyatt, 19, 1 st BN, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, USA, 13 October 2003, Iraq
SPC Robert Allen Wise, 21, 3 rd BN, 124th Infantry Regiment, USA, 12 November 2003, Iraq
SGT Edmond Lee Randle Jr., 26, 2 nd BN, 20th Field Artillery Regiment, USA, 17 January 2004, Iraq
PFC James David Parker, 20, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 21 January 2004, Iraq
SPC Michael Richard Woodliff, 22, 1 st Armored Division, USA, 2 March 2004, Iraq
CPL Shawn Christopher Edwards, 20, 1 st Infantry Division, USA, 23 April 2004, Iraq
PFC Jeremy Ricardo Ewing, 22, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 29 April 2004, Iraq
PO2 Scott Ronald McHugh, 33, Naval Mobile Construction BN 14, USN, 2 May 2004, Iraq
PO2 Robert Boyd Jenkins, 35, Naval Mobile Construction BN 14, USN, 2 May 2004, Iraq
CPT Christopher James Kenny, 32, 1 st Infantry Division, USA, 3 May 2004, Iraq
CPT Daniel William Eggers, 28, 1 st BN, 3rd Special Forces Group, USA, 29 May 2004, Afghanistan
SGT Humberto Fonsecadas Timoteo, 25, 3 rd BN, 112th Field Artillery, USA, 5 June 2004, Iraq
Cpl Terry Holmes Ordóñez, 22, 1 st Marine Division, USMC, 10 July 2004, Iraq
PFC Brandon Robert Sapp, 21, 1 st Cavalry Division, USA, 15 August 2004, Iraq
SPC Jacob David Martir, 21, 1 st Cavalry Division, USA, 18 August 2004, Iraq
SGT Pamela Geraldine Osbourne, 38, 1 st Cavalry Division, USA, 11 October 2004, Iraq
Cpl Ian Thomas Zook, 24, 1 st BN, 7 th Marine Regiment, USMC, 12 October 2004, Iraq
Pfc Oscar Amilcar Martinez, 19, 3 rd Maintenance BN, 3 rd Force Service Support Group, USMC, 12 October 2004, Iraq
2ndLt Paul Michael Felsberg, 27, 2 nd BN, 5 th Marine Regiment, USMC, 13 October 2004, Iraq
LCpl Juan Estevan Segura, 26, 3 rd BN, 1st Marine Regiment, USMC, 9 November 2004, Iraq
SGT Christopher James Babin, 27, 156th Infantry Brigade, USA, 6 January 2005, Iraq
SPC David Joseph Brangman, 20, 3rd Infantry Division, USA, 13 February 2005, Iraq
PFC Chassan Sandu Henry, 20, 2 nd Infantry Division, USA, 25 February 2005, Iraq
SGT Julio E. Negron, 28, 68th Corps Support BN, USA, 28 February 2005, Iraq
CPL Manuel Lopez III, 20, 3 rd Infantry Division, USA, 12 April 2005, Iraq
SPC Kip Allen Jacoby, 21, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, USA, 28 June 2005, Afghanistan
SPC Jacques Earl Brunson, 30, 48th Infantry Brigade, USA, 24 July 2005, Iraq
SPC Hatim Siraj Kathiria, 23, 3 rd Infantry Division, USA, 22 August 2005, Iraq
SPC Jeffrey Alan Williams, 20, 3 rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, USA, 5 September 2005, Iraq
SSG Jude Ralph Jonaus, 27, 3 rd Infantry Division, USA, 6 September 2005, Iraq
A1C Elizabeth Nicole Jacobson, 21, 17th Security Forces Squadron, USAF, 28 September 2005, Iraq
LCpl Ryan James Sorenson, 26, 3 rd BN, 6th Marine Regiment, USMC, 6 November 2005, Iraq
CPL Jimmy Lee Shelton, 21, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 3 December 2005, Iraq
Sgt Adam Leigh Cann, 23, 5 th BN, 14th Marine Regiment, USMC, 5 January 2006, Iraq
SSG Marco Antonio Silva, 27, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 13 March 2006, Iraq
PFC Roland Ernest Calderon-Ascencio, 21, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 12 April 2006, Iraq
SPC Alexander Jordan, 31, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, USA, 10 September 2006, Iraq
LCpl Rene Martinez, 20, 3rd BN, 2nd Marine Regiment, USMC, 24 September 2006, Iraq
SPC Timothy R. Burke, 24, 4th Infantry Division, USA, 4 October 2006, Iraq
CW2 Scott William Dyer, 38, 3 rd Special Forces Group, USA, 12 October 2006, Afghanistan
PFC Roger Alfonso Suarez-Gonzalez, 21, 2 nd Infantry Division, USA, 4 December 2006, Iraq
TSgt Timothy Ronn Weiner, 35, 775th Civil Engineering Squadron, USAF, 7 January 2007, Iraq
SGT Joe Polo, 24, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 29 March 2007, Iraq
CPL Joshua Glen Romero, 19, 1 st Cavalry Division, USA, 18 May 2007, Iraq
CPL Karen Nicole Clifton, 22, 95th Military Police BN, USA, 21 June 2007, Iraq
SPC Daniel Jay Agami, 25, 1 st Infantry Division, USA, 21 June 2007, Iraq
1LT Daniel Patrick Riordan, 24, 1 st Cavalry Division, USA, 23 June 2007, Iraq
PFC Juan Sebastian Restrepo, 20, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, USA, 22 July 2007, Afghanistan
SPC Alfred Henry Jairala, 29, 2 nd Infantry Division, USA, 31 July 2007, Iraq
SPC Dane Rodrigo Balcon, 19, 1 st Cavalry Division, USA, 5 September 2007, Iraq
SGT John William Mele, 25, 3 rd Infantry Division, USA, 14 September 2007, Iraq
SSG Donnie Dwayne Dixon, 37, 1 st Cavalry Division, USA, 29 September 2007, Iraq
SSG Lillian Ladae Clamens, 35, 834th AG Company, USA, 10 October 2007, Iraq
PV2 Marius Leonardo Ferrero, 23, 2 nd Infantry Division, USA, 18 November 2007, Iraq
PO1 Luis Ariel Souffront, 25, SEAL Team Six, USN, 7 January 2008, Iraq
SPC Richard Benjamin Burress, 25, 3 rd Infantry Division, USA, 19 January 2008, Iraq
SSG Robert J. Wilson, 28, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 26 January 2008, Iraq
CPL Jose Alejandro Paniagua-Morales, 22, 2 nd Infantry Division, USA, 7 March 2008, Iraq
MAJ Stuart Adam Wolfer, 36, 104th Division, USA, 6 April 2008, Iraq
SGT Timothy Michael Smith, 25, 10th Mountain Division, USA, 7 April 2008, Iraq
MAJ Mark Edwin Rosenberg, 32, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 8 April 2008, Iraq
CW3 Robert Charles Hammett, 39, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 24 June 2008, Iraq
SFC Joseph A. McKay, 51, 101st Cavalry Regiment, USA, 26 June 2008, Afghanistan
SGT Mark Charles Palmateer, 38, 101st Cavalry Regiment, USA, 26 June 2008, Afghanistan
SPC Sergio Sagoni Abad, 21, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, USA, 13 July 2008, Afghanistan
PV2 Jair de Jesus Garcia, 29, 1 st Infantry Division, USA, 1 August 2008, Afghanistan
CPT Michael J. Medders, 25, 3 rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, USA, 24 September 2008, Iraq
SFC Gary Joseph Vasquez, 33, 7 th Special Forces Group, USA, 29 September 2008, Afghanistan
MAJ John Paul Pryor, 42, 1 st Medical Detachment Forward Surgical Team, USA, 25 December 2008, Iraq
SPC Jessica Yvette Sarandrea, 22, 1 st Cavalry Division, USA, 3 March 2009, Iraq
SSG Gary Lee Woods Jr., 24, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 10 April 2009, Iraq
SFC Jason John Fabrizi, 29, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 14 July 2009, Afghanistan
Cpl Christian Armando Guzman-Rivera, 21, 3 rd Combat Assault BN, 3rd Marine Division, USMC, 6 August 2009, Afghanistan
SSG Randy Michael Haney, 27, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 6 September 2009, Afghanistan
SGT Joshua John Kirk, 30, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 3 October 2009, Afghanistan
SPC Daniel Courtney Lawson, 33, 4 th Infantry Division, USA, 15 October 2009, Afghanistan
SPC Gary Lee Gooch Jr., 22, 2 nd Infantry Division, USA, 5 November 2009, Afghanistan
LCpl Justin Wilson, 24, 3 rd BN, 10th Marine Regiment, USMC, 22 March 2010, Afghanistan
LTC Paul Robert Bartz, 43, 10th Mountain Division, USA, 18 May 2010, Afghanistan
LCpl Patrick Xavier Jr., 24, 3 rd BN, 6th Marine Regiment, USMC, 18 May 2010, Afghanistan
SSG Amilcar H. Gonzalez, 26, 3 rd Infantry Division, USA, 21 May 2010, Iraq
HM William F. Ortega, 23, 1 st Marine Division, USN, 18 June 2010, Afghanistan
SPC Carlos Javier Negron, 40, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 10 July 2010, Afghanistan
LCpl Nathaniel J.A. Schultz, 19, 2 nd BN, 6th Marine Regiment, USMC, 21 August 2010, Afghanistan
HN Edwin Gonzalez, 22, 2 nd Marine Division, USN, 8 October 2010, Afghanistan
SSG Juan Luis Rivadeneira, 27, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 13 November 2010, Afghanistan
CPL Jorge Emmanuel Villacis, 24, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 12 December 2010, Afghanistan
PFC Ira Benjamin Laningham IV, 22, 10th Mountain Division, USA, 7 January 2011, Afghanistan
Sgt Jason Gil Amores, 29, 3 rd BN, 5th Marine Regiment, USMC, 20 January 2011, Afghanistan
SFC Ofren Arrechaga, 28, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 29 March 2011, Afghanistan
SSG Quadi Shareem Hudgins, 26, 3 rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, USA, 2 April 2011, Iraq
SSG Michael Scott Lammerts, 26, 170th Infantry Brigade, USA, 4 April 2011, Afghanistan
SGT Linda Lamour Pierre, 28, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 16 April 2011, Afghanistan
CPT Joshua Michael McClimans, 30, 848th Forward Area Surgical Team, USA, 22 April 2011, Afghanistan
SGT Amaru Aguilar, 26, 1 st Infantry Division, USA, 13 May 2011, Afghanistan
1LT John Marshall Runkle Jr., 27, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 26 May 2011, Afghanistan
SGT Thomas Andrew Bohall, 25, 101st Airborne Division, USA, 26 May 2011, Afghanistan
LCpl Jabari Nkosi Thompson, 22, 3 rd BN, 2nd Marine Regiment, USMC, 17 July 2011, Afghanistan
PFC Brice Murrill Scott, 22, 1 st Infantry Division, USA, 31 July 2011, Afghanistan
SGT Edward J. Frank II, 26, 10th Mountain Division, USA, 11 August 2011, Afghanistan
SGT Rafael Enrique Bigai Baez, 28, 10th Mountain Division, USA, 23 September 2011, Afghanistan
SPC Adrian Glyn Mills, 23, 519th Military Police BN, USA, 29 September 2011, Iraq
LTC David Elliot Cabrera, 41, Uniformed Services University Bethesda, USA, 29 October 2011, Afghanistan
PFC Michael Joseph Metcalf, 22, 82nd Airborne Division, USA, 22 April 2012, Afghanistan
SPC Gerardo Campos, 23, 2 nd Infantry Division, USA, 2 June 2012, Afghanistan
CW3 Brian Daniel Hornsby, 37, 25th Infantry Division, USA, 16 August 2012, Afghanistan
WO1 Joseph Lee Schiro, 27, 3 rd Special Forces Group, USA, 6 October 2012, Afghanistan
LCpl Anthony Joseph Denier, 26, 3 rd BN, 2nd Marine Regiment, USMC, 2 December 2012, Afghanistan
CPT Andrew Michael Pedersen-Keel, 28, 3 rd Special Forces Group, USA, 11 March 2013, Afghanistan
SSG Justin Rasard Johnson Sr., 25, XVIII Airborne Corps, USA, 18 June 2013, Afghanistan
SFC William Kelly Lacey, 38, 1 st Infantry Division, USA, 4 January 2014, Afghanistan
10 SFC Roberto Carlos Skelt, 41, 3 rd Special Forces Group, USA, 12 February 2014, Afghanistan
MSG Pablo A. Ruiz, 37, 3 rd Special Forces Group, USA, 24 May 2015, Afghanistan
1SG Peter A. McKenna Jr., 35, 7 th Special Forces Group, USA, 8 August 2015, Afghanistan
SrA Nathan C. Sartain, 29, 66th Security Forces Squadron, USAF, 2 October 2015, Afghanistan
MSgt Martin L. Gonzales Loli, 39, Host Nation Rider Program, USAF, 5 October 2013, Colombia